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Observing African American Women’s Equal Pay Day: What You Should Know About the Staggering Pay Gap

Despite what pay gap deniers say – yes, there are people out there who dismiss the gender pay gap as a myth created by angry feminists – women in the U.S. earn only 79 cents for every dollar men make. That is why every April we celebrate Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes just how many more months, weeks, and days women must work in order to catch up to what men earned the previous year.

This day in April only symbolizes part of a much deeper problem, though. This past Tuesday, August 23, was African American Women’s Equal Pay Day. Because black women are paid only 63 cents for every dollar a white man makes, it takes eight more months for black women in the U.S. to catch up. It isn’t talked about often, but the difference in pay just between white and black women is staggering.

In observance of African American Women’s Equal Pay Day, here are three basic facts everyone needs to know about race, gender, and pay.

Pay inequity costs black women $877,480.

According to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center, a black woman beginning her career today will lose out on an average of $877,480 over the length of her working life, relative to a white man. Black women in New Jersey, Louisiana, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C. actually lose out on more than $1 million over the course of their careers.

The pay gap applies to all fields.

“In a wide variety of occupations – those that are well-paid and poorly paid, those that are female-dominated and those that are non-traditional for women – African American women working full time, year round make less than white, non-Hispanic men,” stated the National Women’s Law Center.

That’s right, even in fields dominated by women such as nursing and teaching, black women earn less than white men.

College isn’t the answer.

One way some people dismiss the pay gap as a non-issue is by arguing that women of color are simply less likely to earn a college degree so they can’t expect to earn the same income. However, as the National Women’s Law Center points out, even black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher make the same amount as a white man who attended a few years of college but never graduated. Even the most highly educated black women face a pay gap.

When it comes down to it, there are several measurable causes of this pronounced pay gap. According to the American Association of University Women, black women more commonly work in the lowest-paying fields. They also tend to work shorter hours, not by choice, but because they are balancing the competing demands of family and work, often without benefits like access to paid sick or maternity leave. In fact, only 53% of U.S. employers provide any measure of pay during maternity leave.

The final, but most debilitating cause? Systemic discrimination that has been ingrained in American society for hundreds of years.

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