How the Black Wage Gap Impacts Black Households Today
While it’s no secret that Black Americans have always earned less than their white and Asian counterparts, the gap between the two groups has actually grown in recent years. In 2016, the median wealth for Black-American families was $138,1000, a far cry from white families’ median wealth of $929,800—a difference of over 6.7x!
This growing gap has far-reaching effects on Black households, whether you’re looking at income, savings, or debt. Despite more than a hundred years separating us from the end of slavery, the Black wage gap continues to do its part to keep us trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality.
Let’s look at some of the ways this growing gap impacts Black households.
Isn’t Racism Supposed to be Over?
Before we get to all that, however, it’s necessary to do a little bit of myth-busting. A lot of people seem to think that racism is no longer an issue in America. We elected a Black president, after all! Surely that means that we’re now living in a post-racial society.
Racism manifests in a lot of different ways. Naturally, the kind of racism that pops up on all our radars is the most violent and outwardly hateful. But racism can also be subtle, too. This “everyday racism” is often more harmful in the long run, because it’s easy to ignore or rationalize away. But racism doesn’t just mean physical violence or intentional discrimination. Structural or systemic racism is insidious in that it’s built into the very fabric of our society.
This is the kind of racism that results in things like the Black wage gap. There’s no single person or institution to blame for this gap. Rather, it’s the result of countless smaller actions and decisions that, when taken together, create a system that advantages some groups while discriminating against others.
It’s important to remember this because, when we talk about the Black wage gap, we’re not talking about isolated incidents of racism. We’re talking about something that is woven into the very fabric of our society.
Can’t We Close the Black Wage Gap Ourselves?
Surely, we can hold out for higher salaries and close the gap that way, right?
The thing about systemic racism is that it sets up barriers that are nearly impossible to surmount. Even if individual Black workers negotiate higher salaries, the majority of us will still earn less than our white counterparts.
Because many Black Americans are structurally disadvantaged from the start. We’re more likely to grow up in poverty, go to underfunded schools, and live in high-crime neighborhoods. We’re also more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
All of these factors make it harder for us to get our foot in the door, let alone negotiate higher salaries. After spending weeks, or even months, searching for a job, we’re often forced to take whatever we can get—no matter how low the pay.
This “take what you can get” mentality keeps us trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality that’s nearly impossible to escape.
So how does the Black wage gap impact Black households? Read on to find out.
How the Black Wage Gap Hurts Black Households
The Black wage gap has a ripple effect that extends far beyond the workplace. Here are just a few ways that it hurts Black households:
Necessities cost more
One common tip to save money is to buy in bulk. But this advice doesn’t do much good when you can’t afford to buy more than a week’s worth of groceries at a time.
This is the reality for many Black families, who often live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have the luxury of stockpiling supplies. And when you’re buying just enough to get by, every penny counts.
But here’s the thing: those pennies add up. Over time, the cost of living day-to-day adds up to a huge financial burden few will be able to overcome.
Many Black Americans live in areas commonly referred to as “food deserts“—areas with little to no access to fresh, healthy food.
In these areas, the only “food” available is often processed junk food that’s high in calories and low in nutrients. This kind of diet takes a toll on our health and can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.
It’s not just food, either. In many Black neighborhoods, there’s also a lack of access to quality healthcare and safe places to exercise.
All of these factors contribute to poor health, which can then lead to higher medical bills and missed days at work. And when you’re already struggling to make ends meet, falling behind on your bills is the last thing you need.
More people lean on your support
One of the bulwarks of middle- and upper-class families is the safety net that comes from having multiple sources of income. But when you’re part of a Black household, chances are you’re not just supporting yourself—you’re also helping to support extended family members.
24.3% of Black Americans serve as caretakers for sick or disabled family members, the most of any racial group. And those caretakers often have to sacrifice their financial stability to do so. We are also more likely to provide financial support to friends or family members who may be unemployed or underemployed.
Far too many Black adults are taking on the stresses of adulthood—work, bills, childcare—while also shouldering the burden of caring for loved ones. And all of this takes a toll on our mental and physical health.
The irony is that we can’t afford to focus on our health because we’re too busy taking care of everyone else, knowing full well that, if anything were to happen to us, everyone who relies on us would be left in the lurch.
It’s sad to say that we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to the ways that the Black wage gap impacts Black households. There are hundreds of other ways, big and small, that this disparity harms us.
We all know people who’ve “made it”. That’s not the issue. The issue is that, for every Black person who manages to overcome the odds and achieve success, there are dozens more who don’t.
Resisting the framing of our struggle as a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” issue is crucial. The Black wage gap is a symptom of the much larger problem of systemic racism, and it’s time we started treating it as such. Only when we work together to dismantle the racist institutions that keep us down will we be able to close the gap once and for all.
By Sophia Young
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