What could I do with a million extra dollars in my pocket?
That is the question many working women will be contemplating at the end of their careers. As a Black single mother and the breadwinner in my family, I will have to work harder and longer to achieve the same markers of financial success — homeownership, savings and wealth — as most men.
Over the course of my career, I’ll earn less on the dollar compared to my White counterparts. That’s less money I have to save for my future or for an emergency, to pay off student loan debt or to send my children to college.
This year, Aug. 13 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — the day Black women in America have, on average, reached the earnings White men achieved in 2019. In 2019, Black women earned just 62 cents for every dollar White men earned.
According to a study by Time Magazine, a woman who works from ages 16 to 70 will make nearly $600,000 less than a man working an identical span. For Black women, Indigenous women and Latinas, the loss in earnings over a lifetime is significantly higher, in some instances topping $2 million. The pay gap — this difference in earnings between men and women — has been at the top of the women’s equality agenda for decades, but between 1960 and now, the gap has only narrowed by about 20 cents. It’s estimated it will take close to another 40 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach pay parity, on average.
For Black women, Indigenous women and Latinas, it will take more than a century.
In response to the pay gap, research shows women blame themselves, taking on part-time work to make up the difference, or working harder to prove their value and worth to employers. This shouldn’t be the case. Structural and institutional barriers are to blame for the persistent pay gap in between men and women, not women.
For women in lower-wage jobs or jobs with fewer protections, proving unequal pay or wage theft is difficult. Throughout college I worked as a server earning $2.13 per hour, half the federal minimum wage at the time, and lived off the tips I earned. At the end of the night, I had to tip out or pay the bartender and other support staff, leaving me on some nights with less than $20 in earnings. At the time, I didn’t complain and simply told myself I had to work harder the following shift to make it up.
In corporate America, pay secrecy affects women at every level throughout their careers. Employers don’t have to disclose how much they pay employees and employees are discouraged from talking about what they are paid. Often, women discover they are making less than their male counterparts by mistake, in a casual conversation or because of a complaint.
These are just two examples of the systemic barriers that exist in every part of the economy.
Accelerating the closing of the pay gap is no easy feat. In addition to passing legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act — an update of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 meant to further protections for working Americans — we need honest conversations about the gender stereotypes that continue to cause unequal pay for women, and the obstacles that prevent women from reaching their full potential in the workplace.
If we do not, my daughter and my daughter’s daughter will not realize equal pay in their lifetimes.