Today is Black Women Equal Pay Day and in 76 days, the nation will elect the next president of the United States.
Last week, Donald Trump outlined his long-awaited agenda for African-Americans by very simply asking: “What do you have to lose?” More important, however, was the baseless and factually inaccurate backdrop against which this question was framed. According to the candidate, African Americans are “poor,” our “schools are horrible” and our unemployment rate is greater than 50 percent. More simply, Blacks are a monolithic undereducated and unemployed subclass of American society.
Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, for the base of voter he arguably needed to appeal to most – African-American women, the largest voting block in the Black community and a critical constituency to any election – these claims could not be further from the truth. Debunking this narrative and outlining strategies to increase economic opportunity are extremely critical in the quest to obtain pay equity for Black women.
Black women: over-educated, over-employed, underpaid
As it relates to the workforce and employment — according to the Department of Labor’s report, Black Women in the Labor Force — Black women have maintained, presently and historically, higher than average labor force participation rates at a rate of 59.7 percent vs. 56.4 percent for white women.
As it relates to the educational attainment level of Black women, according to data from the Department of Education, Black women, as a segment of the female population, are the most education attaining group in the United States. Of importance to note is the fact that data shows that Black women were conferred degrees at rates of 65.2 percent of doctoral, 71 percent for master’s, 66 percent for bachelor’s, and 68 percent for associate’s.
And lastly, African American women represent the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment in the nation as evidenced by the growth of approximately 67 between 2007 and 2012.
How does this translate to the upcoming election and pay equity for Black women? In many ways.
To start, it is imperative to elect a candidate that actually understands the critical role that women, more broadly, and Black women, more specifically, play in the economy; a candidate who will outline economic policies that have the potential to level the income inequality playing field.
Fighting discrimination requires evidence of inequitable practices and the Paycheck Fairness Act would provide Black women – who make 60 cents to the dollars on their white male counterparts – the ability to discuss and negotiate their salary without retaliation. It would also increase emphasis on equity through the establishment of penalties for companies that practice discriminatory policies.
Further, contrary to the myth of the freeloading welfare-mom, more than one-third of single-parent Black households living in poverty are headed by working mothers. In other words, low-wage service jobs have exacerbated the cycle of poverty in communities of color and Black women face considerable wage gap disparity because of it. Raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, ensuring adequate working conditions and expanding opportunities for higher wage occupations would greatly impact the lives of Black women and their families.
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Lastly, with nearly 60% of Black businesses and roughly 45% of women-of-color owned firms being started or owned by African American women, increasing opportunities for capital to flow through minority communities is critical. Doing so through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), increasing access to contracting and procurement, ensuring Bank lending and participation through the Community Reinvestment Act and increasing the number of and supports for minority incubators and accelerators have the potential to help greatly.
With only 97.5 percent of Black women-owned firms actually having employees, increases in these areas have the ability to help Black women-owned firms overcome the challenges of scaling to employment.
Hillary Clinton’s agenda includes each of the three aforementioned areas of focus. She also recognizes that “more than 50 percent of Americans are women, and if we want to build the most productive and highly skilled workforce that we possibly can, we need to value women.”
Understanding this, it becomes clear that there is only one choice in this upcoming election and her outline for gender equity is what we have to gain.
Natalie Madeira Cofield is the founder of Walker’s Legacy, a global women in business collective for enterprising multi-cultural women.