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Valerie Jarrett On African American Women’s Equal Pay Day: “Let’s Not Silence Ourselves”

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Black Women in Business

Valerie Jarrett On African American Women’s Equal Pay Day: “Let’s Not Silence Ourselves”

I am a single Black woman and the sole breadwinner in my family. When my daughter was growing up, I felt the emotional and financial strain caused by that incredible responsibility. I was fortunate because my parents were able to help out when needed them, but there are far too many women in our country who do not have a safety net, and who are underpaid.
July 31st is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. It is when we recognize the additional days in 2017 that the average Black woman must work in order to earn the same income as her white, male peers earned in 2016. That’s right. It would take half a year’s additional work for Black women in America to close the wage gap.
And what particularly rankles me is that this pay gap continues even though Black women are doing everything that we associate with economic success. At a skyrocketing rate, Black women are pursuing higher education (in fact we’re the most educated group in the United States). We are participating in the labor workforce, and starting businesses. Just consider that in the last decade, the number of businesses owned by Black women increased 178% — the largest spike among any racial and ethnic group of women or men. Yet, pay inequality costs Black women with Bachelor’s degrees an average of $10,000 their first year out of college.
This disparity obviously hurts Black women, but it also hurts their families and their communities as well. Eight out of ten Black women are breadwinners, and many the sole breadwinner, so their contribution to the family income is vital. Yet, a quarter of Black women live in poverty, with nearly the same rate being trapped in service occupations, with the lowest wages. These low wage jobs often lack paid sick leave, family leave, and other essential benefits, all of which contribute to a vicious cycle of inequality and poverty.
This means that 13% of the U.S. population — 23.5 million Black women — who relentlessly pursue the American dream, continue to be overlooked and underpaid. They are robbed of an equal opportunity for prosperity, and plagued by systematic injustice. I know these women. They are my family. They are my neighbors. They are my fellow citizens. So when I became a Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I was proud to work for a President who took the fight for equal pay as personally as I do. President Obama recognized that millions of Americans grew up in homes like his, with single mothers who relied on food stamps, and grandmothers who shared stories of less-qualified men leapfrogging ahead of them at work. And with pay inequality amounting to $1.2 trillion a year, he knew the cost of ignoring this inequality simply was much too high. He knew that our government, institutions, and employers needed to live up to the ideals upon which this nation was founded.
During President Obama’s eight years in office, policies were established that supported gender equity. The first bill he ever signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which prohibits …

I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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