Black Women in the Last 50 Years: How Far Have We Progressed?

Black Women in the Last 50 Years: How Far Have We Progressed?

When it comes to the economic standing of black women, they have the highest labor force participation rates among all women and are starting their own businesses at six times the national average rate. Moreover, black women are second only to black men in labor unionization rates (comprising 12.3% and 14.8% of all unionized workers, respectively).

A report released by the Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network (BWR), Black Women in the U.S., 2014: Progress & Challenges 50 Years After the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education, found that significant progress has been made in recent decades but that there are still many areas that remain in need of dire national attention and urgent action.

For example, while black women may work more, they lag behind in pay, earning 90% of what black men earn, and just 68 cents per dollar earned by white men. This is compounded by the fact that studies show half of all single, African American women have no wealth or negative net worth. These gaps translate into a retirement crisis. Largely due to years of pay disadvantages, decreased access to employer-sponsored pension plans, and a stunning lack of overall wealth accumulation, black women over age 65 have the lowest household income of any demographic group in America, according to the report.

RELATED: Check out the articles on our Black Enterprise Women of Power

“This report is a quick glimpse at where we are. We use this document as a road map during our BWR summit,” Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of National Coalition and convener of BWR, said in a statement. “Black women are a powerful force and we plan to demonstrate that power by working collaboratively and intentionally across issues to usher in a new set of progressive polices and leaders to champion our cause. In the coming days, we will unveil specific details about the implementation of the Power of the Sister Vote!”

“We look at the tragedies and the triumphs surrounding black women’s lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry,” added Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D., president and CEO of Incite Unlimited and editor of the report. “Black women have made progress since key historical markers such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, and the onset of the War on Poverty, but many areas remain that need urgent action.”

Here are some of the key findings from Black Women in the U.S., 2014:

  • While white women are more likely to have breast cancer, African American women have higher overall mortality rates from breast cancer. Every year, 1,722 African American women die from breast cancer–an average of five African American women per day.
  • The maternal mortality rate for black women is three times that of white women and is on par with several developing nations.
  • One in four black women over 55 years old is diabetic, while four in five are overweight or obese. African American women living in the 12 southeastern states with the highest incidents of stroke are the group most likely to have high blood pressure.
  • While much recent attention has been focused on the degree to which black boys are impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline, black girls experience an out-of school suspension rate fully six times that of white girls.
  • Over the past five decades, the high school graduation rates of black women have jumped 63%, virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2%), and significantly narrowing the gap with white women (7%).
  • Black women are the fastest growing segment of the women-owned business market, yet black women-owned firms trail all other women when it comes to revenue generation. Black women receive only 6% of the revenue generated by all women-owned businesses. That compares to 29% received by white women.
  • Black women make up the most dynamic segment of the Rising American Electorate. In the past two presidential elections, black women led all demographic groups in voter turnout.
  • While black women vote at dynamic rates, they are woefully underrepresented in elected office. Black women hold only 3% of state legislative seats, and less than 3% of seats in Congress. And 2014 makes the 15th consecutive year that no black woman has held a seat in the United States Senate.
  • Though proficiency in the STEM fields is widely acknowledged as a key for the workplace of the future, black women lag far behind. Today, black women make up only 2% of practicing scientists and engineers in the workforce.