By Kenrya Rankin
ColorLines, June 9, 2017 —
In 1937, Zora Neal Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” made it plain that Black women are the mules of the world. A new study says that, in America at least, nothing has changed.
“The Status of Black Women in the United States” is the result of a collaboration between the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). Released Wednesday (June 7), it draws on data from nonprofits and federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, to get a picture of Black women nationwide. The data is used to explore six areas that the study’s authors feel impact the lives of women: employment and earnings, health and well-being, political participation, poverty and opportunity, violence and safety, and work and family.
Key findings include:
- Black women vote a higher rates than all other groups of men and women in America, but they are underrepresented at every level of state and federal political office in America.
- More than 62 percent of Black women work, making them the only group of women with a higher workforce participation rate than their male counterparts. Yet with median annual earnings of $34,000 for full-time, year-round work, Black women earn less than almost every other group in the nation.
- About 28 percent of Black women with jobs work in service roles, which have the lowest wages overall. And in all but two states, the average cost of childcare is more than 20 percent of median annual earnings for Black women, making it hard to afford quality care.
- In 2014, Black women were twice a likely to be imprisoned as their White counterparts; that multiple jumps to four when considering women ages 18 and 19.
- Black women experience poverty at higher rates than all women in this country except Native Americans.
From the report:
Today, Black women are one of the most active groups of voters in the country, and Black women and girls are creating greater opportunities for their communities through their leadership in social movements such as Black Lives Matter, Say Her Name, and the national domestic workers’ movement for fair labor protections and dignified working conditions.
Yet, beginning with the stark exploitation of slavery in the seventeenth century, Black women’s contributions to U.S. society and the economy have been undervalued and undercompensated.
The report acknowledges gaps in the presented data, including the lack of specific information on transgender and immigrant women, and goes on to detail policy recommendations aimed at closing the gap between what Black women give America, and what the nation gives in return.
“The intention behind this report is to make visible the experiences of Black women in our economy and our democracy,” NDWA special projects director and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza writes in her foreword to the report. “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. Ultimately, we aim to contribute to that movement by ensuring that Black women—cisgender, transgender, gender non conforming, immigrant, low income, disabled, U.S. born, with children or without—are at the center of an economy and a democracy that works for all of us.”
Read the recommendations—and the full report—here.