A new report about the nation’s black women paints a familiar portrait of a group that is working hard on many levels to achieve the American Dream but is still falling short.
Black women vote at high rates, have made significant improvement in earning college degrees and are succeeding in opening their own businesses, according to “The Status of Black Women in the United States.” Yet they continue to be underrepresented in elected office, earn less than white men and women and are twice as likely as white women to be incarcerated, the report says.
“They have all the makings of what should be success, yet their contributions are undervalued and under compensated,” states the report, released this week by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The report was prepared by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit organization affiliated with George Washington University.
The report’s findings are similar to previous studies on the state of black women in the country, including a widely discussed 2014 paper by the Black Women’s Roundtable titled, “Black Women in the United States, Progress and Challenges.” It also noted that despite high participation in the workforce, educational institutions and the political process, black women are underpaid and underemployed, suffer at a higher rate from major illnesses and are vulnerable to violence at home and in their communities.
Both reports drew largely from data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Here are some of the key findings of the new report:
• More than 6 in 10 black women are in the workforce. But between 2004 and 2014, black women’s median annual earnings declined by 5 percent. As of 2014, black women who worked full-time and year-round had median annual earnings that were 64.6 percent of that of white men, $53,000.
• The number of businesses owned by black women increased 178 percent between 2002 and 2012, the largest increase among all racial groups. In 2012, black women owned 15.4 percent of all women-owned businesses in the United States. Yet nationwide, businesses owned by black women had the lowest average sales per firm, at $27,753.
• The share of black women with at least a bachelor’s degree increased by 23.9 percent between 2004 and 2014. About 22 percent of black women over age 25 had a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree in 2014, a higher level than black men, but lower than other racial and ethnic groups.
• Nearly a quarter of the nation’s black women, 24.6 percent, live in poverty, more than twice the percentage of white women — 10.8 percent — the group with the lowest poverty rate among U.S. women.
• Black women were twice as likely as white women to be imprisoned in 2014 — 109 per 100,000 black women in state and federal prisons vs. 53 per 100,000 white women.
The report calls on government and other institutions, including nonprofit think tanks and philanthropic groups, to develop policies that provide higher wages and paid leave, improve access to health-care services, combat racism and sexism throughout society and push for criminal justice reform, both to protect black women from violence and to reduce their numbers in prison.