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The Shriver Report Reveals the State of the Economy for Black Women

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Serious Woman 2

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. There was much debate about the outcome of the war—opponents of government programs designed to help those in need say things like, “If the war on poverty was such a success, why are there still so many poor people?” Advocates on the other side point out that if it weren’t for programs such as SNAP (food stamps) or the Earned Income Tax Credit, millions more would fall into poverty. 

First, let’s take a look at some basic facts. Yes, there are still too many people living in poverty today. But that doesn’t mean that the battle started 50 years ago didn’t produce some victories.  For example, between 1959 and 1973, we cut our poverty rate nearly in half through an economy that worked for everyone and a strong set of programs that supported families when they struggled.

It is against this backdrop that my employer, the Center for American Progress, teamed up with Maria Shriver for a groundbreaking report: The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. This report, that includes essays and contributions from authors Angela Glover Blackwell, Beyoncé and LeBron James, looks at this unique moment in time where women are earning more college degrees and breaking more glass ceilings than ever, yet 1 in 3 of them are living in or on the brink of poverty.

One of the biggest issues is that the American economy and family has changed, but our nation’s institutions have not.  Women are nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the US and more than 70% of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all. Gone are the days where mom could stay at home with the kids—40 percent of all households with kids under 18 have mothers who are either the sole or primary breadwinner. 

For African American women, the numbers tell a similar tale, if the history differs a bit. The fact that women are now more than ever wearing both caregiving and breadwinning hats is nothing new to African American women. For decades, since the end of slavery, Black women took care of their families and also worked outside of the home (often in the homes of others) out of financial necessity. And the gender gap that persists between all women and men is even more acute for Black women.  While the average woman continues to make 77 cents on the dollar for the average man, the average Black woman makes 64 cents to every dollar a White man makes.

Therefore it is not surprising that many Black women support a change in how the workplace treats women, especially those with children. In conjunction with The Shriver Report release we conducted a large nationwide poll and asked people their opinions on a range of issues, from the need for paid sick leave, to regrets women have about the choices they made in their lives. We were able to do an oversample of Black women and found that more than other groups, African American women support new steps by both employers and governments to help women and families adapt to the changing structures around them.

Black women supported stronger policies that would help all women better balance their lives and contribute to both their families and their workplace. Paid sick leave, the ability to have flexible work hours and child care are just some of the policies they supported.

And despite the greater challenges that they face, African American women are among the most optimistic of all women when it comes to their future. This matches up with other polling that we have done. The challenges—more Black women are unsatisfied with their jobs, they earn less money compared to White women; they are more likely to be in single parent households—don’t outweigh the belief that their situations can improve. 83 percent of African American women expect their financial situation to improve in the next five years, compared to 52 percent of White women.

This optimism alone should spur us to action. Of course there is no silver bullet to addressing the plight of women living on the brink. It will take a combination of government and business solutions. It will also take women themselves, either helping other women push back from the brink or learning about what they can do to help themselves. But there is no question that we have to act. We simply can’t have a strong and robust economy if so many women are struggling every day. 

You can download the book for free through January 15th by visiting www.ShriverReport.org.   

Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123

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