Report: Poverty and Powerlessness Reflected in Lives of African American Women

By Meghan Jusczak, for Jane Crow Project

NEW YORK, June 13 – African American women’s earnings shrank by 5 percent in the decade ending in 2014, even though they are more likely to participate in the workforce than any other group of women. This is one of the many statistics that emerged in a June 7 report reflecting the consequences of overlapping racial and gender discrimination in the lives of African American women.

“While Black women are working hard, democracy isn’t working for us, and hard work isn’t paying off,” said Alicia Garza, the special projects director of National Domestic Workers Alliance, which collaborated in researching and producing the report. “Black families depend on Black women, yet Black women face the highest poverty rates in the nation, second only to indigenous women. We do our part to make this country better — we vote at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. It’s time for an agenda that puts Black women at the center, for the sake of all of us.”

The findings in the report, “The Status of Black Women in the United States,” produced by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research with Garza’s group analyzes data from every state and offers policy recommendations across six key topics affecting African American women: political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, health and well-being and violence and safety.

·      African American women voted in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections at greater rates than any other demographic group, yet they remain underrepresented in elected offices.

·      African American women who work fulltime bring home 64 cents for every dollar white men earn.

·      In all but two states, the average cost of childcare exceeds 20 percent of African-American women’s average earnings, rendering it unaffordable to many.

·      One in four African American women in the United States live in poverty, more than twice the rate of white American women (one in ten).

·      African American women have the highest death rates from heart disease (177.7 per 100,000) and breast cancer (30.2 per 100,000) in comparison to all racial and ethnic groups of women.

·      African American women experience higher rates of intimate partner violence than women of other races and backgrounds. More than 40 percent of African American women experience physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes.

·      African American women were imprisoned at twice the rate of white women (109 per 100,000 African American women compared to 53 per 100,000 white women).

“Economic justice is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement,” said Tracy Sturdivant, the co-founder and co-executive director of Make It Work, a campaign working to advance economic security, during a panel convened to respond to the report.

Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, led the panel with seven other African American leaders: Sturdivant; Chakilah Abdullah Ali, leader of the We Dream in Black North Carolina Chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; LaTosha Brown, project director of the Grantmakers for Southern Progress; Monifa Bandele, vice president for child partnership and diversity at; Tanya Wallace-Gobern, executive director of the National Black Worker Center Project; Jessica Byrd, founder of Three Point Strategies, which supports candidates incorporating social justice into their campaign platforms and Nana Afua Y. Brantuo, the policy manager at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Though the panel addressed a variety of topics, the conversation repeatedly returned to issues of economic opportunity and security for African American women.

African American families depend on women’s incomes, the report said — 80.6 percent are breadwinners, meaning they are either the sole earner or earn at least 40 percent of household income. This is true even though most African American mothers remain employed in low-paying caretaking and service jobs. Employers in these areas usually offer few benefits. The report found that more than one-third of employed African American women do not have access to paid sick days. Yet in addition to caring for children, 16.4 percent of African American women under age 65 live with someone aged 15 or older with a disability.

The report also touched on the high maternal mortality rates among African American women, who are more than three times as likely as white women to die due to pregnancy and childbirth. And although rates are decreasing, they also have the highest rates of infant mortality (11.3 per 1,000 live births). Inequalities in Black women’s reproductive health can be attributed partially to unequal access to healthcare and racial discrimination within the medical system, the report notes, as well as broader threats at the federal and state levels to end contraception, safe abortions and other family planning services for low-income women.

“Black women are central to holding together many households and communities,” Moms Rising’s Bandele said. But because these mothers live at the intersection of racism, sexism and maternal discrimination, she added, they remain “undervalued and undercompensated” across the nation.

Read the full report here:


Related Jane Crow stories:

Rita Henley Jensen