In our culture, women are expected to be mothers first and all else second – at least that’s the excuse many make for the gender wage gap. If you’re married, or financially stable enough for one parent to stay home, the system may work. But what about when it doesn’t?
But for many, particularly the Black woman, this system and its expectations create major challenges.
While Black women are significantly more likely to attend college than any other race of females compared to their male counterparts, they’re still paid less. A strong matriarchal structure causes Black to be seen as the only female group that is more privileged than their male counterpart. But does this structure buffer us from other systemic disparities?
That same matriarchal structure can result in a very different upbringing for males compared to females. Black women are encouraged to be self-sufficient and educated, while Black males are often permitted to take the scenic route to maturity.
The result? Black women are often forced to take the reins and lead the household themselves. In today’s progressive times, egalitarianism is not a bad thing. But when you’re the primary breadwinner – as in many single-parent homes – and are expected to be a full-time mother, conflict can occur.
Are Black women under increased pressure to parent and provide? The research may indicate so. And the following factors together represent a unique set of circumstances that may affect Black women’s ability to do just that.
Parenthood is challenging, but it can be increasingly difficult to be an effective parent when your earning potential is limited. Few areas illustrate this challenge like the gender wage gap.
Recently, an analysis of weekly earnings found that Black women make an average of $611 while Black males earned $680 weekly. That means Black women make 89.9 percent of what black men make.
This sounds wonderful, until we compare the numbers across racial lines. White women make 81.8 percent of what White men make, but their average weekly earnings are $734 and $897 for White men. Both White and Asian women have a higher weekly take-home average than Black and Hispanic males.
In 2015, women in the United States made an estimated 80 percent of what men were paid. Factor race into the equation and the results are even more troubling. Thanks to the gender/ race combo, African American females make an estimated 64 cents per every dollar a white male makes.
For those in multi-income households, the struggles of the gender wage gap can be buffered. But current cultural trends reflect an increase in single parent homes and a delay of marriage across all races. As a result, single mothers are significantly more likely to live in poverty. With 67 percent of black children born into non-married homes (non-married meaning two single parents, NOT fatherless – black fathers are as, if not more active than fathers of other races) it does not take long to see room for challenges.
Forty percent of single parents are employed in low-wage jobs. The median income for single mothers is $26,000 as compared to $84,000 median income for married couples.
The working poor have an independent set of struggles to overcome. Female-headed working families account for 39 percent of low-income working households nationally, but 65 percent of African American low-income working households are led by women.
Four out of 10 (40%) Black families with children under 18 that were headed by single working mothers live in poverty. Families headed by White females reflected a figure of 14.5 percent living below the poverty line.
Career choices and lack of benefits
For Black women, overrepresentation in conditions of poverty and work ethic have no relation. Black women have historically been more likely to be employed or actively looking for employment than any other group by race and gender. The most recent assessment of the labor force includes 62 percent of black women as compared to 57.5 percent of white women.
One reason for wage disparities in the black community can be accounted for by college major and choice of profession. Women are more than overrepresented in low wage jobs. As a matter of fact, more than half of low wage working women are employed in 16 occupations; the highest concentration of these professions being health aides – a career with an average wage of $10 per hour or $21,000 per year.
This is significantly less than the $46,000 national average wage across all occupations. Nearly 40 percent of health aid positions are filled by Black women. It’s also important to mention these jobs often do not offer the benefits – paid leave, health insurance, retirement plans – that many higher-skilled jobs offer. Health aides and similar positions are very valuable within society, but compensation packages for these workers fail to represent that value.
The average cost of daycare in the United States is $11,666 annually, or a staggering $972 per month. It is not difficult to see why any parent would think twice before placing their child in daycare.
Now imagine the obstacle this creates for single, low-income mothers, particularly one with a $21,000 annual take-home pay.
To avoid the cost of childcare, many mothers elect to stay at home to raise their children themselves. This is a wonderful option for those who can afford it. But for the estimated 12 million single parents in the United States (80% percent of which are single mothers) this luxury is too expensive to afford.
Childcare takes well over 25 percent of monthly income for many and there are still other expense such as food, housing, and transportation that need to be accounted for.
Culturally and societally, Black women are expected to choose financial contribution over parenting. It’s still somewhat shocking for a Black woman to state that she is a stay-at-home mom. Many, like myself, are pushing back and choosing to delay employment to raise their children despite having a higher education.
But this privilege is not often available in a single family structure. Black families trail slightly behind all other racial groups with 23 percent of Black children growing up in a home with a stay-at-home mother.
Black women are often said not to have historically had the luxury of choosing to stay home with their children. This is quite understandable considering the ability to stay home is often determined by family wealth. With Black women making only a percentage of what White women make, and Black men making 73 percent of what White men make, it’s easy to see that regardless of marital status, all income is necessary to maintain the household.
Another factor, often overlooked, is outstanding debts. A typical White household has 16 times the wealth of a Black one. In addition to more money coming into the household for White families, there may also be less money leaving the household. This is important to consider because a decrease in expenses decreases the need for additional income.
Debts may include student loans, medical bills, and utility debt. Black young adults are believed to have 68.2 percent more student loan debt than their White counterparts. And Black individuals are significantly more likely to be sued over small debts like utility bills.
Even seeking debt forgiveness is more challenging for Black individuals. Bankruptcy, a strategy that’s still a largely middle class phenomenon, is a way out for many. But when attempting to file for bankruptcy, Black individuals are more likely to be directed towards Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is more costly, less successful, and more time-consuming than Chapter 7. Bankruptcy has also been found to yield less assistance for Black and Hispanic individuals. This is important to acknowledge as it is impossible to build wealth with multiplying debts.
All factors considered
Black women have the unique responsibility of uplifting themselves while providing strength to their men despite a broken system. Families are interdependent. The conditions that affect Black males also directly affect Black females and their families.
One should not ignore the role historic attempts at deconstructing the family and systematic oppression has had on Black individuals.
By the year 2000 more than “1 million Black children had a father in jail or prison – and roughly half of those fathers were living in the same household as their kids when they were locked up.” Disproportionate mass incarceration of Black males must be accounted for.
With the cumulative effects of income disparities, difficulty in family structure, and the cost of living, it’s easy to see that Black women face unique challenges. There is no magic wand to wave away these issues.
By studying the unique challenges faced by Black women, we can work to find a solution to many of these problems. Fortunately, the Black community is one of resilience and strength. Black children are growing and thriving despite the many odds stacked against them.
In the words of the great Maya Angelou, we will continue to rise. Read below for her powerful poem that illustrates the strength and persistence of the Black woman.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
From “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.