The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a fact sheet detailing the state of African American women. Without a doubt, “African American women are critical to the economic stability and success of their families, and they play a central role in the U.S. economy, contributing as strong consumers, employees, and entrepreneurs,” according to CAP. And yet, “despite their vital importance to their families and the economy, African American women face unique barriers in the workplace that can undermine their ability to succeed and thrive.”
The fact sheet revealed that occupational experiences of African American women are diverse, with a growing number in management and other high-paying jobs. Others are in service occupations, which tend to be lower paying and allow less access to the aforementioned workplace protections.
As CAP’s fact sheet notes, in 2013, 66.9% of African American mothers were their household’s breadwinners. African American women face unique barriers that include lack access to the very policies they need to fulfill their responsibilities at work and at home—such as earned sick days, paid family and medical leave, the right to request flexible work arrangements, and access to high-quality and affordable child care.
Equal pay advocates recently observed Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which represents the day in which the earnings of African American women will catch up with the earnings of their white, non-Hispanic, male counterparts from the previous calendar year. However, as of 2015, black women earn on average 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, and this is up from 63 cents two years ago. The equity pay gap is widening—not closing—for black women in the workforce, when compared with white women, who now earn 77 cents on the dollar, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
African American women are not just employees—they are also innovators, risk takers, employers, and job creators, and their businesses generate significant revenue. Recent studies show that from 1997 to 2013, African American women-owned businesses grew by 258%. As of 2016, African American women-owned firms make up 61% of all African American-owned businesses and generate an estimated $52.6 billion in revenue per year.
While African American women are an important segment of business owners, they are less likely to be employers than the average among all women. Ninety-seven percent of African American women-owned businesses are sole proprietors, compared with 89% for all women, representing the challenges these entrepreneurial women face in growing and scaling their businesses.