We all know that women often earn markedly less than men, even when they do the same work. Many people may also be aware that women of color and transgender women, on average, make even less than white, cisgender women. But according to a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer, the wage gap among New York City's black women is particularly wide, on average costing them more than $1.2 million over a 40-year career.
The report's release came just in advance of Black Women's Equal Pay Day on August 7th, the date on which their earnings, on average, will have caught up with white men's from the previous year. It comes a full four months after April's Equal Pay Day, which applies to all women in general and speaks to the country's broader wage gap: According to the Pew Research Center's latest national numbers, women earned 82 percent of what men did in 2017, or 82 cents on the male dollar. White women, however, bring up that average: Latina women, for example, made 62 percent of what men did in 2017, and black women, 68 percent.
Racial stratification in New York wages continues to be a pernicious problem. According to the report, black women earn 34 cents less than their white male peers statewide, and 37 cents less nationwide. In the city, however, they earn an average of 43 cents less, pulling in a median $42,431 against white men's $74,288. That over-$30,000 disparity means that black women in New York City won't financially catch up with white men's 2017 salaries until October 3rd, 2018. The trend persists even as the number of black women obtaining bachelor degrees and (higher degrees) rises.
The report also notes that, even when black women do hold purportedly more lucrative positions, they're still wildly underpaid: A black woman who works as a financial planner, for example, may make just 39 cents for every dollar her white male colleague earns in the same role. And although black women and girls over the age of 16 participate in the workforce at roughly the same rate white women and girls do, their unemployment rates chart almost twice as high. In New York City, they are also increasingly likely to live in poverty, especially compared to white peers.
College graduates typically have better luck getting jobs—particularly the kinds of jobs that come with bigger paychecks—so all things being equal, black women should be steadily gaining economic traction in New York City and around the country. But as Farah Tanis, executive director of the Brooklyn-based gender justice organization Black Women's Blueprint, points out, things are not now and have never been equal.
Systemic racism and a national history of discrimination mean black women still struggle "to be seen as full citizens who deserve equal pay, who deserve equal respect in regard for our talents and the skills that we bring to the table, even if it doesn't look exactly like the skills that white men bring to the table," Tanis tells Gothamist. "We go to school in order to ... learn what the white man learns so that we can meet those standards, but there isn't enough space made to accommodate black women and their history of being excluded."
In New York City, part of the problem is that black women are more than three times as likely as white men to work lower paid service and retail jobs. That women make up the vast majority of caretakers, domestic workers, and other such positions leaves a huge sector of the workforce effectively barred from the conversation around equal pay, Tanis notes, and that matters in a city with such a high cost of living. Black women, she explains, may find themselves in a "sandwich generation," eventually obligated to "support their parents who are older, who also never got a fair wage, who are also poorer" in addition to "the younger generation." To make what a white man makes working two jobs, Black women—and black mothers are overwhelmingly likely to be their household's breadwinner—may have to find two jobs.
Taken altogether, the many layers create a kind of super impediment that helps explain NYC's gaping wage gap, which Stringer called an "outrage" in his statement.
"As a city we're failing to level the playing field for black women and denying them the opportunity to buy their own home, pursue more education, or have economic security," he said. "If New York is going to continue to be a progressive leader in this country, City leaders need to put immediate plans into action."
The report recommends a $15 minimum wage as a starting point rather than a ceiling. It suggests increased emphasis on accessible, affordable childcare options to help workers who count kids, parents, or both as dependents. It proposes educational and occupational programs "informed by young girls of color" to mitigate existing segregation, and the bolstering of anti-discrimination policies. If employers really want to set women up for success, though, Tanis says they need to train them to identify what their work is worth and ask for it. Ultimately, though, it's on employers to say yes.