When John and Ann started working on January 1, 2013, John had something of an advantage. Because women earn 77 cents for every dollar John earns, it will take Ann until April 11, 2014 to earn the same amount of money that John earned in the calendar year of 2013. The issue of unequal pay is so pressing that President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago. While we have “come a long way, baby”, the pay gap has remained stubborn. This is why President Barack Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act as soon as he assumed office.
This year, to commemorate National Equal Pay Day (that’s the day Ann finally earns as much as John), the president signed an executive order protecting workers from retaliation when they speak of unequal pay in the workplace (one of the ways employers can maintain unequal pay is to make discussing pay grounds for firing). The president, through the Secretary of Labor, is also requiring federal contractors to provide data on pay, race, and gender to ensure that employees are fairly paid. Furthermore, the Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which may pass the Senate, but not the House of Representatives.
We know all about John and Ann, but what about Tamika? If women earn 77 percent of what men earn, what about an African American woman? Women surely have come a long way, but some are moving far more slowly than others. How many African American women are there in the Senate? Among Fortune 500 leaders? In other positions of power? What about pay? African American women earn about three quarters of what other women earn, meaning that if it takes Ann until April 11 to catch up with John, It will take Tamika until about June 1 (or about another 6 weeks) to catch up. Tamika earns in 18 months what John earns in 12 months.
Even African American women with the highest levels of education experience these differences. White men with a postgraduate degree earn a median salary of $1666 per week. African American women earn a median salary of $1000 during the same time period. For all the talk of pay equity and paycheck fairness, the status of African American women is largely ignored.
It wouldn’t take much for the president, or some of those feminist groups who support paycheck fairness, to throw in a line or two about African American women. Nor would it hurt African American organizations, especially those who serve Black women, to point out this injustice. Are African Americans invisible? Don’t we count? African American women raise the majority of our children, and shoulder many of the challenges in the African American community. Ignoring us in a conversation about unequal pay simply marginalizes our experiences and us.
The focus on “overall” data is yet another way of marginalizing not only African American women, but other women and men of color as well. Reporting aggregate data gives some notion of economic progress. Reporting data as it pertains to African American women and men makes it clear, for example, that African Americans experience depression-level unemployment rates.