The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The black unemployment rate is down, but Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is putting a spotlight on wage inequities

There's usually a lot of fanfare from the White House when monthly unemployment numbers are released. President Trump inherited a healthy economy that has kept rolling, and even picked up steam, during his tenure, and that includes some of the lowest unemployment rates for people of color in history.

Trump often points to these numbers as proof that he is making America great for citizens, regardless of their race or gender.

But there are still major gaps among different races and other groups — especially when it comes to economics. Activists, organizations and news outlets sought to highlight that Tuesday on Black Women's Equal Pay Day. They say discussions about income disparities based on race and gender — and the reasons they exist — are not receiving enough attention from this administration.

The Tides Center, a San Francisco-based social justice nonprofit, launched the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, an initiative to highlight the pay gap between women and men. According to the initiative’s website, “when compared to White, non-Hispanic men, Black/African American women are paid only $.63 (cents) on the $1. This means the typical Black woman must work until August 2018 to be paid what the typical White man was paid at the end of December 2017.”

The Washington Post's Heather Long previously reported on the decades-long black-white gap. The black unemployment rate is typically more than double that of whites, and there are systemic reasons for that. She wrote:

African Americans face a number of barriers to employment, including biases from recruiters. An oft-cited study in 2004 took the same résumés and put more “white sounding names” and “black sounding names” on others. The study found that employers were 50 percent more likely to call in the person with the white-sounding name for an interview, even though the two résumés had exactly the same qualifications.
The experiment has been repeated several times since with similar results, leading some minority candidates to attempt “résumé whitening” when they apply for jobs.

While many black Americans and women are working, large shares of them are underpaid, relative to other groups. It can be difficult to look at the low unemployment numbers with glee when you aren't making a living wage. Despite black women historically having higher labor force participation rates, compared with other women, according to the U.S. Labor Department, their salaries remain lower on average.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, black women on average are paid 63 percent of what white men are paid. The Post's the Lily previously reported:

Black women often are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, from government to private industries.

Salaries attached to people in executive positions are much higher, and people in positions of power make crucial decisions about hiring practices, workplace culture — including family leave policies — and who gets paid what. There are currently zero black women working as chief executives of Fortune 500 companies.

Although the number of black women in higher-paying professional occupations has increased over time, they are still more likely to work in service occupations than white, non-Hispanic women. In 2015, almost 28 percent of black women worked in service positions — which includes many hourly jobs in the food and health industries — compared to 17.4 percent of white women.

The recent employment numbers are encouraging in some ways. And although things look significantly better for most Americans than they did during the Great Recession, a decade ago, it seems some groups continue to get the short end of the stick.