By Sheryl Estrada
Black women in the United States are hard workers, are leaders in entrepreneurship, excel academically and avidly participate in the political process, yet they are underpaid, are vulnerable to violence, suffer at a higher rate from major illnesses are and twice as likely as white women to be imprisoned.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance’s recently released report, “The Status of Black Women in the United States,” seeks to address the gap in research on Black women’s well being and to provide data that can inform policy and programmatic changes.
“Black women’s contributions to U.S. society and the economy have been undervalued and undercompensated,” the report states.
Prepared by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a nonprofit that is affiliated with George Washington University, the research builds on IWPR’s longstanding report series, The Status of Women in the States, which since 1996 has provided national data on women. The report also draws on multiple data sources from federal government agencies including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The authors note that Black women played an integral role in the civil rights movement, including fighting to desegregate public schools in the 1950s and ’60s and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and continue to be active in their communities.
“Today, Black women are one of the most active groups of voters in the country, and Black women and girls are creating greater opportunities for their communities,” the report states.
Despite putting forth their best effort, the research highlights the disparities that continue to exist for Black women in America.
More than 6 in 10 (62.2 percent) of Black women are in the workforce and are the only group of women with a higher labor force participation rate than their male counterparts. Yet, between 2004 and 2014, Black women’s real median annual earnings declined by 5 percent.
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).
In regard to entrepreneurship, the number of businesses owned by Black women increased by 178 percent between 2002 and 2012, the largest increase among all racial and ethnic groups of women and men.
And, 8 out of 10 (80.6 percent) Black families depend on Black women’s earnings. The women are either the sole earner or earn at least 40 percent of household income.
The share of Black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 23.9 percent between 2004 and 2014. Black women are the group of women with the second-largest improvement in attainment of higher education during the decade.
• Black women’s average annual heart disease mortality rate remains the highest rate (177.7 per 100,000).
• Black women have the second highest lung cancer mortality rate (35.7 per 100,000).
• Black women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate (30.2 per 100,000).
Also, intimate partner violence is endured by Black women at higher rates than women overall; 41.2 percent experience physical violence by their partner, compared with 31.5 percent of all women.
In 2014, Black women of all ages were twice as likely to be imprisoned as white women in (109 per 100,000 Black women were imprisoned in state and federal prisons compared with 53 per 100,000 white women).
The disparity is worse for Black women ages 18-19 as they are four times as likely among young women to be imprisoned as white women of the same age (32 per 100,000 compared with 8 per 100,000).
Black women vote at comparatively high rates and had a higher voting rate than all other groups of men and women during the last two presidential elections, according to the report. However, Black women remain underrepresented at every level of federal and state political office in the U.S.
Black women are a loyal voting block for the Democratic Party. Last month, more than 20 Black female elected officials, activists and community leaders penned a letter to Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez to demand greater representation of Black women in leadership positions.
In 2008 and 2012, “70 percent of eligible Black women cast ballots, accounting for the highest voter turnout of any racial or gender group, proving that our voting power can and has determined elections,” the women stated. “A closer look at the data shows that in 2012 Barack Obama won re-election by 4.9 million votes.”
In November’s presidential election, 94 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in support of the progressive movement.
Last year, Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Yvette Clarke (D-Calif.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) formed The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. It is the first-ever caucus dedicated to removing barriers and disparities experienced by Black women. The Caucus is now composed of more than 20 lawmakers.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance’s report offers solutions to the disparities, including having Black women in political office to help “ensure that the issues affecting women, families, and people of color are addressed in public policy discussions.”
The report also states that social justice movements that place Black women’s experiences and interests at the forefront “can address these barriers by building on the legacy of Black women’s activism and leadership — a legacy of working to build a nation in which justice, democracy, and equal opportunity can be truly realized.”