The state of Black women in America is a mixed bag. While progress has definitely been made in certain areas, there are still many hills to climb and prejudices to conquer. In an extensive report recently put together by the Black Women’s Roundtable, “Black Women in the U.S., 2015,” several startling points were revealed: Black women’s health is still in need of vast improvement; Black women continue to excel in education; but in the work world they lag in pay; and they are more vulnerable to violence and the criminal justice system. Amid all that, however, is the fact that Black women are a powerful voting force, and they are the fastest growing group of female entrepreneurs.
The report included data from the last 60 years from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources.
There are three areas of concern Black women face when it comes to their health. One point is that it is more dangerous today to have a baby. According to the report, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times higher than that of White women. In fact, the mortality rate for Black mothers in America is as bad as in some developing nations. A woman in Lebanon has a greater chance of surviving childbirth than a Black woman in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that African American women are more than three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than White women in the United States. “We know that Black women dying from pregnancy-related causes are younger, less educated, more likely to be unmarried, more likely to start prenatal care in the second (or) third trimester of pregnancy or not at all, when compared to White women. But except for that, we don’t know a lot (about why),” explained Dr. Andreea Creanga of the CDC.
Breast cancer also tends to be more deadly for Black women than any other group. The report found that Black women are less likely to get regular check ups and they also experience delays receiving follow-up care and treatment.
The third major health concern they face is high blood pressure. Black women have higher rates than any other demographic in the country.
Again, the reasoning is that more Black women live in economic distress and are unable to afford healthcare, according to the CDC.
Despite the fact that Black girls face suspension from school six times more often than their White counterparts, they are three times more likely to attend schools that don’t offer the full range of college preparatory courses, and where most teachers fail to meet all state requirements for certification or licensures, they excel in education.
In spite of these challenges, over the past five decades, the high school graduation rate of Black women has jumped 63 percent according to the research, virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2 percent), and significantly narrowing the gap with White women (7 percent).
In addition, Black women lead their male counterparts in college enrollment and experience degree attainment at a higher rate than any other group of women. According to the U.S. Census (2010), Black women made up 66 percent of Blacks obtaining a bachelor’s degree, 71 percent of those completing a master’s program and 65 percent of those completing doctorate programs.
Working, yes. Making money, not so much
Black females lead all women in labor force participation rates, according to the report. Even mothers of small children are overwhelmingly likely to work. However, Black women remain behind in pay, largely due to the fact that they tend to work more in low-paying jobs. In fact, the report notes that Black women are more likely than any other demographic to work for poverty-level wages. The long-term effect is that there are often no “golden years” for Black women.
Another statistic the U.S. Census found is that Black women older than age 65 have the lowest household income of any demographic in the U.S. While the national rate of unemployment is around 5 percent, it’s closer to 9 percent for Black women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And when it comes to pay, the disparities are still wide. Black women who have earned a bachelor’s degree on average make about $49,000 a year, which is still nearly $10,000 less than a White man who holds only a two-year degree.
Violence and incarceration
Black women are especially likely to be victims of violence. In fact, the report states that “no woman is more likely to be murdered in America today than a Black woman. No woman is more likely to be raped than a Black woman. And no woman is more likely to be beaten … “At the same time, Black women are more likely than any other group of women in this country to go to prison.
According to the ACLU, Black women represent 30 percent of all incarcerated women in the U.S. although they only represent 13 percent of the female population.
Where the power lies . . . politics. Voting.
Despite all the depressing statistics, Black women are a powerful voting block, evidenced recently by Hillary Clinton’s huge win during the South Carolina Democratic primary. Black women in South Carolina are considered the most powerful voting block, making up an estimated 61 percent of voters in the state. According to CBS News, Clinton won 89 percent of Black women voters. According to statistics, Black women were key in the last two presidential elections as well, leading all demographic groups in voter turnout.
The downside is that, unfortunately, Black women remain unrepresented in elected office. Black women hold only 3 percent of state legislative seats and also only 3 percent in Congress. WHY?
Down to business
Black woman are the fastest growing segment of new business owners. According to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of Black-owned women businesses has grown 322 percent since 1997. Today, according to the report, Black women own about 14 percent of all businesses in the country, which equates to about 1.3 million enterprises.
States leading the way include Georgia, Maryland and Illinois. Businesses owned by Black women also top the charts in revenue growth when compared to other minority female-owned companies. Some Black women feel that advancements in technology, such as the Internet, and the tendency of young Americans of all ethnic groups to admire Black culture have been a plus.
“As an entrepreneur, you can push your own ideas forward and you have greater access to tools that level the playing field in many areas where money previously would have been a barrier,” says Jill Tracey, a media personality in Miami.
The bright side
More Black women are obtaining positions of power in business, government and politics. Although White men still continue to dominate leadership roles in business and government, more Black women are being appointed and elected to powerful positions across the country.
Among the most notable Black women in business are Ursula Burns, chair and CEO of Xerox; and Suzanne Shank, president and CEO of Siebert Brandford Shank and Co., is reported to be the first African American woman to lead a publicly traded financial institution. As the CEO of two large financial firms, Shank has overseen more than $1 trillion in transactions for state and local government agencies. She is also one of the most powerful people on Wall Street following in the footsteps of her mentor, the late Wall Street legend Muriel “Mickie” Siebert, also known as the “First Woman of Finance.” Rosalind Brewer is president and CEO of Sam’s Club, putting her in charge of more than 100,000 employees and $58 billon in revenue; and Oprah Winfrey still commands a massive power position as head of her own television network with an estimated networth of $3 billion.
As of February 2015, OWN was also available to approximately 81.9 million pay television households (70.3 percent of households with a television) in the United States
U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, is a Black woman. And the attorney general of California is as well–Kamala Harris,– who last week won the California Democratic Party’s endorsement for U.S. Senate. Harris captured 78 percent of votes cast.
“I’m incredibly honored to have the endorsement of the California Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate race, and I’m so proud of the support our campaign has received from every corner of our state,” she said. “We know there is more that unites us than divides us, and I’m grateful to the Californians who joined together to send that message this weekend.”
Then there’s Karen Bass, who represents California’s 37th District in Congress. She was elected in 2010 and has held the spot ever since.
Another African American woman who wields legal power is Jackie Lacey, the current District Attorney of Los Angeles County. With Harris moving toward national politics, some pundits say Lacey could be the next Attorney General for the state of California.
In politics, Mia Love made history in 2014, by becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress representing Utah.
Bonnie Watson Coleman also made political history as the first African American woman elected to Congress from New Jersey.
According to a study released by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, NCBCP.org, of the 104 women serving in Congress, 18 are Black. Only three states have never had a Black woman elected to their state legislatures, and they are Maine, North Dakota and South Dakota. There are also several states with African American populations of less than 2 percent that have Black female legislators, including New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, Vermont and Utah. Several major U.S. cities have Black female mayors, including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Shreveport, L.A., and Rochester, N.Y.
Black women are also increasingly in roles of leadership in labor unions. They include Roxanne Brown, assistant legislative director for United Steelworkers; Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now; Arlene Holt Baker who serves as executive vice president of the AFL-CIO; Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union; and Dr. Toni Lewis, chair of the Service International Union.
The power of entertainment
Oprah Winfrey set the standard and Black women are stepping up behind her. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has taken on the challenge of diversifying the organization during one of its most trying times. Facing massive criticism for the academy’s lack of diversity, she has vowed to change the face of the Oscars.
“We’re going to make it happen,” she vowed in an interview with “The View’s” Whoopi Goldberg. Boone Isaacs told Goldberg that she has actually been a member of the academy since 1987. She also told Goldberg that moviegoers can impact Oscar nominations by supporting films that offer a diversity of characters.
“Get out there and support filmmakers,” she said.
Beyoncé’s power came to light recently, when she used her performance and influence to promote Black Lives Matter at the Super Bowl and in the video for her latest single, “Formation.” She unabashedly featured dancers in Black Panther attire and also made a statement with a $1.5 million donation to the Black Lives Matter organization.
Tracey, the Miami media consultant, comes from a single-parent family where her mother worked for years as a laborer with one of the big car manufacturers in Detroit. Over the last 20-plus years, she has grown her own business and made a name for herself in a business community dominated by men—radio. She says her biggest concern is that Black women need to start “to think as strategically as men do about moving through corporate America and creating alliances to further their agendas.
“We still have issues about collaborations and working together,” Tracey said.
Elsie Scott, Ph.D., the founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, had this to say about what concerns Black women: The most universal concern for Black women are economic issues, including income equality, job creation and unemployment benefits. Other key issues are healthcare and education, and affordable, quality education.
In 2015, the Washington Post and the Kaiser Foundation conducted a survey on the state of Black women in America. The study involved 2,000 White and Black women. According to the survey, 75 percent of Black women said that now is a good time to be a Black woman in America. In addition, the survey found that Black women tend to have higher self-esteem (67 percent) than White women (43 percent), but about one in five say that they don’t get the same amount of respect as White women. No doubt, said the women who participated in the survey, racism is a “big problem,”and they fear discrimination.
The study went on to state that a vast majority of Black women feel that living a “religious” live was very important. And more Black women than White ones said that having a successful career was very important.
Channelle Hardy, senior vice president for Policy and executive director of the National Urban League, said that increased access to healthcare and an increase in the minimum wage would have a major positive impact on Black women.“Studies show that the number of women who are earning a minimum wage dramatically increased as a result of the recession–among all racial groups,” she explains.
“For Black women, the numbers doubled. And our representation among the working poor is significant: 15.64 percent of African American women workers are earning annual incomes below the national poverty threshold,” Hardy said. “The impact of an increase in the federal minimum wage would be immediately felt by Black women and our families.”
Hardy also indicated that it’s important for Black women to experience an increase in health and other benefits.“Directly related to the importance of an equitable and living wage is the issue of benefits. Lack of access to paid sick leave or health insurance has multiple health and wellness impacts for women and families. Healthcare expenses, childcare expenses, or costs associated with missing work contribute to the challenges facing Black women economically.”