Seems like there’s a Congressional Caucus to discuss just about everything. Did you know that there’s already a bourbon caucus, a cement caucus, a hockey caucus and a ski and snowboard caucus? After watching Lemonade about a dozen times, I know some folks are talking about creating the Beyoncé Caucus. So I think it’s fair to say that a caucus designed to address the social and economic issues facing Black women and girls is long overdue.
On Thursday, I was honored to be invited to speak before the first ever convening of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, spearheaded by Congresswomen Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Robin Kelly (D-IL).
We often hear people say that economic justice is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. Black women know this. Black women are the backbones of our families and our communities. We love our Black men and boys, but the reality is Black women have been footing the bill for a long time.
Black Women and Equal Pay
Whatever you think about Harriet Tubman becoming the new face of the $20 bill, what strikes me most is that today she would only be paid $12 of that $20. That’s because Black women are paid 60 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. A Black woman will lose close to $900,000 over the course of her career because of the pay gap. Whether you’re earning $15 an hour or $50 an hour, the gender pay gap is a huge loss for Black women and the families they are supporting. And it turns out that raising the minimum wage is an equal pay issue too, since 37 percent of Black women would get a raise if the minimum wage were increased.
At Make it Work we talk a lot about pay transparency, but the fear and legacy of discrimination makes having open conversations about our wages, especially at work, extra challenging. But, these conversations are happening—quietly. Pay transparency is essential to closing the gender wage gap, but Black women shouldn’t have to rely on an underground railroad of whispered conversations about our salaries to achieve equal pay.
We propose creating a public database of salary data on job categories broken out by race and gender, protecting employee’s personal information, of course. That data would be available by employer, not just industry, meaning workers would be better positioned to hold their employers accountable. We also support the Paycheck Fairness Act to protect employees who talk about their pay at work from employer retaliation and close loopholes in current law.
It’s also time to raise the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage nationwide will increase earnings for millions of workers, and support the local economies where they live, work and spend their earnings.
Because it shouldn’t have to be this hard. Black women know this, and I’m betting you do too.
Black Women As Caretakers
My 70 year-old mother in Detroit doesn’t think twice about taking care of my 96-year old grandmother and my 3 year-old nephew. She just does it.
Black women have been stepping in to care for their parents, their children and grandchildren forever, because for many it’s just too hard to afford high quality care. And we have been bearing the cost for low wages in child care and the other low-paying jobs where Black women are overwhelmingly represented.
Going back to work quickly after a new baby is born to keep the paychecks coming in; taking time off from work to care for our sick kids, and losing our paychecks and risking our jobs to do it; juggling last minute schedule changes that mean we have to skip class or find a neighbor to take care of our kids. Black women do what has to be done. We make it work. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But you know what? Black women know that we deserve support.
In the U.S., child care policy is a patchwork of care that is barely working for anyone. That’s why at Make it Work we’re calling for changes that ensure no one pays more than 10 percent of their pay on child care and would provide aid to pay for all types of care options – from child care centers to after-school care to care provided by friends and family, including for the nontraditional hours that many Black women are working. Taking care of children is also one of the most important jobs there is, yet it’s grossly undervalued. Let’s guarantee a minimum wage of at least $15/hour for child caregivers and providers.
Here’s the bottom line: whether you have your kid in child care or big mama care, you should have resources to support it.
This Year Could Be Different
Every year we talk about the importance of “the women’s vote” or “the Black vote” – what’s clear from recent presidential elections and primaries is that the Black women’s vote is going to determine this next election.
Black women know that this election year must be different. If candidates want our vote, it’s time they support our economic justice agenda; and that’s an agenda that includes caregiving, equal pay and work-family issues. Black women support these issues more than any other group, and we’ll vote for the candidates who support them. But too often, no one is asking us.
The Black women’s vote is not just a talking point. It must go hand in hand with a serious economic justice agenda. Because if there’s one thing I know: it’s that it shouldn’t have to be this hard.
Tracy Sturdivant is co-director and co-founder of Make It Work. She makes it work by traveling, pretending she’s a contestant on Top Chef, and spending time with her family—especially her nephew in Detroit, her hometown.