August 7 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, a date chosen to highlight the pay gap between black women and white men because a black woman, on average, would have to work 19 months — or roughly January of one year until August of the next — to make what a white man made in one calendar year.
Equal Pay Day for All is held in April, but it is important to distinguish the fact that black women make far less than women on the whole. Women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men make, but black women make 63 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make. This means that black women also make 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women, according to a study published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And the gap is only widening for women, both black and white.
Extended over a 40-year career, the wage gap has black women earning $850,000 less than men’s median annual earnings, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Studies show that the pay gap starts early. An data analysis of BusyKid’s app’s 10,000 users shows that parents pay boys a weekly allowance twice the size that they pay girls. By 16, black women are earning less than white men and the gap only widens as they age. As black women have families of their own, the gap means less money for their families, which is particularly harmful because more than 80% of black mothers are the main breadwinners for their households, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.org, called the pay gap facing black women an urgent problem.
“It has huge financial implications for millions of families, and it signals something deeply wrong in our economy,” Sandberg said. “We need to address the gender and racial inequalities that give rise to this imbalance—and create workplaces where everyone’s labor is valued, everyone is treated with respect and everyone has an equal shot at success.”
With corporate partners like Adidas, Lyft, P&G and Reebok, LeanIn.org is asking customers how they would feel about getting 38% less with the hashtag #38PercentCounts emblazoned on bags at their stores and on their social media accounts. For instance, Lyft customers are being asked to imagine how they would feel if their trip ended abruptly with nearly 40% left. They then have the opportunity to round their fare up in donation to Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit teaching girls of color technology and programming skills. Lyft is also donating 38 cents to the organization for each ride that is rounded up through the end of August.
Despite the laundry list of factors stacked against black women and the research proving the wage gap’s existence, one-third of Americans are unaware of the pay gap between men and women. According to a survey by Survey Monkey, Lean In, and the National Urban League, half of all Americans do not know about the pay gap between black women and white women, either. That same survey shows that nearly half of white men think that obstacles hindering black women’s advancement are a thing of the past, while only 14% of black women agree. Almost two-thirds of non-black people surveyed said they think there is no pay gap in their companies.
Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, says that companies creating programs and policies that measure perceptions about inclusion could have an impact beyond raising the income of black women.
“Not only would fair pay for black women drastically narrow the racial economic gap,” he said, “but it would go a long way toward stabilizing our national economy.”