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For Black women, the pay gap persists

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A Black businesswoman wearing a face mask speaks on a cellphone.

Before the pandemic, a Black woman made 62 cents for every dollar a white man made. But COVID-19 has likely exacerbated that. Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

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Thursday is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day — the day in the year when the average Black woman finally earns what a white man made the previous year. The pay gap for Black women has persisted for years. 

The reason Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is so late in the year is because a Black woman before the pandemic made 62 cents for every dollar a white man made. But this is the age of COVID-19.

“In times of crisis, we definitely see that existing patterns of inequality become more pronounced,” said Beth Humberd, a business professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

During the pandemic, industries where women tend to work are being hit harder. And Black women have been hit hardest by job losses. The unemployment rate among them is 13.5% — that’s higher than the overall rate. 

COVID-19 is making lack of child care a bigger problem, too. In many cases, said Wharton professor Stephanie Creary, Black women are the primary caregiver and breadwinner. That used to mean they relied on networks of friends and family to care for their children.  

“Now that we’re in a physical-distancing situation, the support system that Black women might normally get, that’s gone away for many people,” Creary said. 

That may force some women to leave the workforce. Vasu Reddy, senior policy counsel for workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, said that could make a long-term problem worse. Black women are already concentrated in low-paying industries, and coming in and out of the workforce can make it harder for them to negotiate pay. 

“If your previous salary is used to determine your new salary, then that carries with you that discrimination,” Reddy said. “That inequality carries with you into your new job.”

In the last couple months, lots of companies have said that Black lives matter. Reddy said companies wanting to show what they mean should pay their Black workers equitably. 

But workers can push their employers, too, said Minda Harts, author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.” They can say, “Well, as a company, you said Black lives matter. And so the Black lives inside of your company have to matter as well,” Harts said. “And that starts with pay, right?”

And even in this economic climate, she said those steps may chip away at the pay gap. 

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