COVID-19 Highlighted Pay Disparities; November’s Election Can Help Fix Them - Voice of San Diego

Opinion

COVID-19 Highlighted Pay Disparities; November’s Election Can Help Fix Them

Proposition 16 tackles the structural discrimination that hurts all California women, and Black women in particular.

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Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is our annual opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure true equality for Black women – something that is both central to our American values of equal opportunity, and that we have been denied for centuries. In this pivotal election year, we have a historic opportunity to make good on our American promise of equal opportunity – but it will take bold, deep reform to undo decades of discrimination.

Of course, equal pay for Black women is a symptom of the deep-seated discrimination we face; as Black women, we live at the intersection of sexism and racism. We are discriminated against for both parts of our identity. This manifests in unequal access to education, poor health outcomes, high child mortality rates and, yes, wage discrimination and limited access to economic opportunities.

On average, Black women in California are paid less than 60 cents on the dollar for the same work as their white male counterparts. This affects us as women striving for a better future and it hurts our families; 84 percent of Black women are the primary income earner in their household. The impact of wage discrimination trickles down, as we are paid less, invest less and build less generational wealth for our children.

Outside of the money we bring home to our families, women contribute trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy. We also start businesses at higher rates than men. In fact, businesses owned by women of color are growing faster than businesses owned by white men.

We continue to persist, even though our businesses lose $1.1 billion every year in public contracts we are denied.

We persist even though we only comprise around 15 percent of corporate boards.

We persist even though one-quarter of the Russell 3000 companies based in California have zero women on their boards.

We persist even though we ask for promotions and raises at about the same rates as white women, but get worse results.

We persist even though the pay gap actually widens for women at higher education levels. The gap is largest for Black women who have bachelor’s and advanced degrees.

We persist even though the COVID-19 recession has hit women and people of color especially hard: during the first three months of the downturn, employment for Black and Latinx women fell by over 20 percent – more than three times the decline in employment for white men.

We persist because when paid equally, we will earn $950,000 or more over the course of our careers.

As women, and resilient Black women, we have long been pivotal to the financial security of our families and communities despite this systemic discrimination.

Imagine what we can accomplish if we give everyone an equal shot at success.

We can’t rely on individual companies to create equal opportunity policies to equip everyone with that equal opportunity to succeed; instead, we need systemic change to root out this discrimination.

One example of the work being done to advance systemic change is California’s Proposition 16, which would undo our state’s ban on affirmative action. Proposition 16 tackles the structural discrimination that hurts all California women and Black women in particular. It can provide opportunities for good jobs, good wages and quality schools for all Californians.

Look no further than Los Angeles to see how desperately we need to make good jobs and stable wages available to everyone. As was just reported in a public audit by the city controller on Aug. 5, despite the best efforts by Mayor Eric Garcetti to hire more women, women only make up 28 percent of the 45,000 people who work for the city of Los Angeles – and they are only paid 78 cents to the dollar. Proposition 16 would allow the city of Los Angeles more aggressively recruit women for stable, good-paying jobs that could help build a better future for women and their families.

We are in a unique moment in our history on this Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, as one crisis, COVID-19, reveals the other. Because of systemic discrimination, Black women, and all communities of color, are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. The pandemic shows us that we might be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.

Cries for racial justice and systemic change are reverberating across the state. We must rise to the call set before us and pass Proposition 16 to give everyone – Black, White, Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander, indigenous, women or men – an equal shot at fair wages, good jobs and quality schools.

This is the way we make some future Black Women’s Equal Pay Day not a reminder of the work we have left to do, but a major celebration for the true equality we achieved by pushing for systemic change.

Shirley Weber represents the 79th Assembly District and serves as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

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