By Ellen McGirt
June 8, 2017

A new report from the The National Domestic Workers Alliance offers a broad picture of the experiences of black women in the U.S., and aims to inspire the creation of programs that remove barriers to their economic success. The NDWA is an advocacy and membership group for domestic workers, including nannies, housekeepers, and home care workers, many of whom work informally and without the benefit of legal protections.

The Statue of Black Women in the United States is the first ever report of its kind for the organization, and it analyzes the broader experience of black women in six categories – political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, health and well-being, and violence and safety.

It’s a treasure trove of stats and recommendations. Here’s a quick snapshot: From 2004 to 2014, Black women’s real median annual earnings declined by 5%. As of 2014, for black women who worked full-time, year-round, the median annual earnings was 64% of what it was for white men. Some 28% of black women work in the service industry, and 80% of black women are the sole or primary breadwinners of their families. While the number of businesses owned by black women increased by 178% between 2002 and 2012, our lives remain fraught: We are underinsured, more likely to be afflicted by preventable diseases, more likely to be incarcerated or experience domestic partner violence than most other ethnic cohorts.

Black Lives Matter co-founder and NDWA special projects director Alicia Garza has written the forward, and puts the findings into historical context:

White women were able to enter and succeed in the workforce largely because of the work of Black women and other women of color. Without Black women’s labor inside of white households, white women would not have been able to break (some) of the barriers of sexism that relegated the value of women’s contributions to the sphere of the home.

Though slavery was legally abolished in the United States in 1865, the conditions that existed under slavery continue to persist today. Black women continue to be at a severe disadvantage in many aspects of our democracy and our economy. Whether one examines Black women’s access to health care, Black women’s earnings, or Black women’s access to much needed social supports like childcare and eldercare, Black women are getting the short end of the stick–despite having contributed so much to the building of this nation.

The result is a racialized economy where Black women are losing ground. The care economy was built, in large part, from Black women’s labor. Today, the care economy is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy, overall. Yet, in the fastest growing sector of the economy, wages are not growing. The people who care for those we care for the most are underpaid, undervalued, and under-protected. While the care workforce today is comprised largely of immigrant women from Central America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, Black immigrant and Black American women are still concentrated in the sector. Thirty percent of the workforce that cares for us are Black American women.

While the report is a great start, there are gaps – the experiences of black immigrant or transgender women in the care industry are not fully explored. (Garza points to resources who are filling in those gaps.)

Garza ends with a call to action. “We hope that the information and recommendations contained within can be a contribution to a social movement that works hard each day to bring forward the world we know that we all deserve,” she writes. “Ultimately, we aim to contribute to that movement by ensuring that Black women- -cisgender, transgender, gender non-conforming, immigrant, low income, disabled, US born, with children or without–are at the center of an economy and a democracy that works for all of us.”


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