On Wednesday, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report on the status of black women in the United States that’s, frankly, pretty depressing. It shows that black women face inequality almost everywhere: at work, in the U.S. criminal-justice system, in health care, and when raising families. Funded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the report analyzes data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia across six topical areas: political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, health and well-being, and violence and safety. Here are four of its most important findings.
1. Black women vote at a comparatively high rate. According to the report, black women had a higher voting rate than all other groups of men and women during the last two presidential elections. In other words, as Alicia Garza — the NDWA special-projects director — said in a statement, “we do our part to make this country better … it’s time for an agenda that puts black women at the center.” Indeed, the report also shows that black women are underrepresented at every level of state and federal office.
2. Black women work harder for less. More than 60 percent of black women are in the workforce, but in recent years, their median annual earnings declined by about 5 percent. According to the report, “as of 2014, Black women who worked full-time, year-round had median annual earnings that were 64.6 percent of White men’s ($53,000).” What’s more, almost 30 percent of black women work in service jobs, which is the occupational group with (a) the lowest wages, and (b) the worst benefits.
Despite being one of the most-employed groups, black women experience poverty at higher rates than any other group, with the exception of Native American women. A full quarter of black women live in poverty in the U.S., compared with 18.9 percent of black men, and 10.8 percent of white women.
3. Black mothers face more obstacles. In total, a little more than 80 percent of black mothers are their family’s breadwinners, meaning they’re either the sole earner, or they make more than 40 percent of the family’s total income (as a point of contrast, fewer than half of white mothers carry the same financial responsibility). But many are unable to afford quality child care; in all but two states, the average cost of child care exceeds 20 percent of a black woman’s median annual income.
4. The criminal-justice system is disproportionately cruel to black women. Starting at a young age, black women are disciplined at a higher rate than other groups of girls in public schools — between 2011 and 2012, they made up 45 percent of girls suspended from K-12 schools. That carries over when they get older; for instance, black women ages 18 to 19 are four times as likely to be imprisoned as white women of the same age. And black women of all ages are twice as likely to be imprisoned as white women.
The report does include some encouraging stats as well: for instance, over a 10-year period, black women became the group of women with the second-largest improvement in attainment of higher education. And during that same period, the number of businesses owned by black women increased by 178 percent – the largest increase among any group of men or women.
To foster improvements in other areas, researchers recommend implementing policies that increase the minimum wage, give black women more career training opportunities, enact paid family and medical leave in all fields, and promote criminal justice reform. Nana Afua Y. Brantuo, a policy manager with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told Rewire that the report serves as a “great entry point for those who have not been engaging this segment of our population.” She added that the data “makes you sort of step back because it reaffirms what you, your friends, and colleagues have experienced, what many women around the nation are experiencing.”