Lower income for all women, particularly those of color, means less money to support their families with necessities such as housing, food, education, and health care. Closing the pay gap is even more important for women of color who are more likely than their white counterparts to be breadwinners.
The long-term wage gap hurts families of color tremendously, forcing families to choose between putting food on the table or saving for a college education and retirement. On average, an African American woman working full time loses the equivalent of 118 weeks of food each year due to the wage gap. A Latina loses 154 weeks’ worth of food. The stubbornly persistent gender-based wage gap adds up substantially over the lifetime of a woman’s career. For women of color the loss of savings over a 30-hour-a-week to a 40-hour-a-week work lifespan is significant. A woman of color will have to live on one-third to 45 percent less than a white man based on the average benefits that are afforded through Social Security and pension plans. Research shows that a woman’s average lifetime earnings are more than $434,000 less than a comparable male counterpart over a 35-year working life.
Analysis done in 2012 by the Center for American Progress illustrates that the money lost over the course of a working woman’s lifetime could do one of the following:
—Feed a family of four for 37 years
—Pay for seven four-year degrees at a public university
—Buy two homes
—Purchase 14 new cars
Simply be saved for retirement and used to boost her quality of life when she leaves the workforce
Lifetime earnings are even lower for women of color because they face higher levels of unemployment and poverty rates. In March 2013 unemployment rates of black [women] and Latinas were significantly higher than their white counterparts at 12.2 percent and 9.3 percent respectively compared to white women at 6.1 percent. According to the National Women’s Law Center, poverty rates among women, particularly women of color, remain historically high and unchanged in the last year. The poverty rate among women was 14.6 percent in 2011—the highest in the last 18 years. For black women and Latinas that same year, the poverty rate was 25.9 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively.
Americanah took five years to write. ‘For a long time I’ve wanted to write about two things: a love story that doesn’t apologise for being a love story, in the grand tradition of the Mills & Boon novel; and I also wanted to write about race in America. I hadn’t felt ready until now.’ The title refers to an immigrant who has become Americanised – Ifemelu gets called ‘Americanah’ by her friends. Adichie writes with great affection for her subjects but she is not sentimental. Americanah is a dense story with a very light touch – it moves effortlessly between time frames and countries, making acute political points without haranguing.
Adichie has compared America to ‘a very rich uncle who doesn’t really know who you are, but all the same you can’t help being fond of him’.
‘I like America but it’s not mine and it never will be,’ she says now. ‘I don’t really have a life there. I travel and I speak and I sit in my study trying to write, but in Nigeria I have a life. I go out, I have friends, I feel emotionally invested in what’s happening.’
Last year Adichie was the youngest person to deliver the annual Commonwealth lecture at the Guildhall, and her TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) lecture on national identity, The Dangers of a Single Story, is one of its most popular. She is an eloquent person with big ideas, who is very interested in pan-African politics. ‘The idea of aid as a solution to Africa’s problems is something I don’t agree with at all. When you look at countries that have succeeded, aid didn’t do it. Aid creates dependency.’ She resents how applying for aid has become a job in itself. ‘It’s not looking for money to start a business, it’s writing a proposal so someone gives you money. Nigeria is not like that yet, and I hope we don’t become like that as it’s unhealthy. If we had electricity every day and it was constant and we had good roads and water, people would do things, they are full of initiative.’ It would, she believes, make a huge difference to productivity, self-esteem, motivation. Instead they are plagued by inconsistency in the most basic infrastructure.
‘I am very much a social engineer at heart,’ she says. ‘I love Nigeria and Africa and if you love a place that you know is kind of broken, you want it to be whole. I am always watching. For example, when I have my hair done I am watching the women in the salon, wondering how things could be better for them. The salon has to close at seven because they turn the generator off. And diesel is expensive so what they have to pay to maintain the generator is already taking a lot from what the salon makes, which in turn affects how much the workers in the hair salon are paid.’
I had to release this anecdote from my spirit after reading so many posts about how terribly fast food workers are treated:
As most of you already know, I’m a bookkeeper/accountant for a landscaping company. My boss recently hired a new group of manual laborers to replace the group that previously worked @ his father’s farm. Yesterday, he summoned me to the conference room, where he said the following:
“Sean, I know that you try to mail the farmers’ paychecks as early as possible so that they’ll arrive on Friday, but I need you to stop doing that. Send them late every once in a while, maybe every other week, so that they’ll arrive on Monday or Tuesday. I wanna keep them on their toes, because I spoiled the last group, and they got too comfortable.”
Sometimes, when people hit me with such bold, blatant fuckery, I get too stunned to muster up a suitable response. This was not one of those times.
“That’s a slave-master tactic,” I replied, “and I refuse to comply with it. It’s one thing to withhold a paycheck because the employee isn’t doing her or her job; it’s another to withhold it as a tool of psychological manipulation. As long as the farmers do their jobs, I’m gonna mail their paychecks on time.”
“Okay,” he mumbled. “Maybe there should be another plan.”
“THERE IS NO OTHER PLAN. They do the work; they get their money.”
I immediately returned to my office and closed the door.
Prince George’s County became emblematic of a long-delayed advance toward equality: the growth of black wealth in America. For three centuries, structural racism had prevented black families from building wealth. School systems, hiring practices, red-lining, and discriminatory lending practices all combined to deny the opportunities that white Americans, whether immigrant or native born, saw as their birthright. In the South, especially, there were more direct means of holding back black economic advancement: Violence was often directed toward black men and women who owned businesses or farms and toward those who fought for their right to work for fair wages. But in the 1980s, helped by laws that encouraged homeownership among minorities, African American families were at last able not only to earn higher incomes but to buy homes and build wealth.
Just from 1995 to 2004, black homeownership rates nationwide rose 6.5 percentage points, reaching a height of 49 percent in 2005. But those gains were almost entirely erased as the Great Recession began in 2008, with black homeownership rates dipping to 45 percent last year and continuing to fall. Nowhere is that more dramatically illustrated than in the stretch of suburbia that straddles the Beltway. At the height of the crisis, in 2009, the foreclosure rate in Prince George’s County was 4.19 percent, compared to 1.87 percent in Maryland and 2.21 percent in the nation as a whole.
Even families who aren’t losing their homes have seen values drop, making it more difficult to get loans to finance their children’s education or their retirement. Mosi Harrington, the former executive director of the Housing Initiative Partnership, a Maryland nonprofit that helps people hold on to their homes, says declining home prices are particularly problematic for African Americans because they have inherited less than their white counterparts. “In your minority communities, wealth is not very deep,” she says. “There’s no family wealth to fall back on in hard times.” Most middle-class families hold all of their wealth in their homes, and that’s especially true for the median black family—the amount they hold in stocks is zero. That means the housing crisis has wiped out an entire generation of black wealth.
In general, African American families have few resources to tap for big-ticket items like college that are necessary for their children to remain middle-class. The gap between middle—class families and the top 1 percent is huge regardless of race, but the racial gaps are even larger. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America report, black households had a median net wealth of just $4,900 in 2010, compared with $97,000 for white households. A third of black households had zero or negative wealth.
“There’s been a lot of attention brought to how much income inequality we’ve seen in this country, thanks to Occupy Wall Street,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. “I think people kind of have a handle on the dramatic income inequality we have. But wealth inequality swamps anything we see in income equality.”
The story of Prince George’s County is, in many ways, the economic history of black Americans writ large. While its post–civil rights boom was a heartening sign of the slow but hopeful rise of a durable black middle class, its sharp downturn during the Great Recession is one more sign that the arc of history has yet to bend in the direction of economic equality or justice.
The racial inequality and wage gap also exists in the adult film industry.
Women of color in the pornography industry are paid half to three quarters of what white actresses tend to make.
In a New York Times essay published this week Dr. Mireille Miller-Young wrote that the greatest challenge faced by women who work in the pornography business, in addition to social stigma, is gender and racial inequality.
Women of color are paid half to three quarters of what white actresses tend to make, according to a 2007 NPR interview with Miller-Young. She went on to say this “reflects the ways in which black bodies have historically been devalued in our labor market since, you know, slavery to the present.”
She says this is also visible in the production of the types of films that black women appear in: they have a lower production value, less of the kind of market, and lower kind of values in how they treat the workers.
A commenter in the [Colorlines] comments section below that identified as an adult model has added even more context and says the unfair treatment goes far beyond adult models and actresses on screen:
“[People] never want to discuss the unfair treatment of dancers, models, escorts, directors, and all others who work in the sex industry who get less pay and expected to perform more extreme acts because of the color of their skin.”
The question is not whether the economic policies Ryan represents are effective. They clearly are not. The question is, “Why do they keep coming up?”
Here again, Ryan’s plan clues us in. In it, he argues that a “culture of dependency” fueled by “progressivism” and “The Great Society” is the cause for America’s economic crisis. To his mind, policies which promote fairness are the problem. Black and brown America are to blame.
Romney takes Ryan’s black and brown blame game a step further.
Earlier this year he said that Democrats “(don’t) have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” and that we need “to restore to this country the principles that made this nation the greatest nation in the history of the Earth.” New York magazine reports his book “No Apology” echoes the theme. Romney declares that the current economic crisis was caused by a “reorientation away from American exceptionalism.”
Brought back into the public mind by Sarah Palin, exceptionalists believe that the policies promoted by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, centered on economic and race fairness, weakened rather than strengthened the country.
They are devotees instead of the off-the-chain individualist philsopher Ayn Rand. Ryan told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that, “What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of … too much government.”
Like Karl Marx, Rand may have been accurate in the details of her analysis, but she was a wrong-headed radical whose conclusions are off the mark. Rand’s book “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” asserts that “government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights.” She had controversial views on race which, like many modern conservatives, worked in tandem with her hate of government. “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe,” she declared.
An article on Rand by Sam Anderson in New York Magazine highlights her belief that “Native Americans, having failed for a millennia to create a heroically productive capitalist society, deserved to be stripped of their land.” He concludes that she “suffered from some kind of undiagnosed personality disorder.”
Rand’s firebrand anti-government rhetoric and attack on the tribe-based “savage” are rallying points for many conservatives.
The problem with Rand, Romney, and Ryan is that in a democracy the people are sovereign. When everything works as it should, the government actually reflects the expressed will of the people; it’s not apart from us.
Mid-century America unleashed a wave of changes which made it a fairer place. Black and brown Americans were able to participate fully in public life like never before. A person of African descent is now president. The country recently passed a demographic threshold: births amongst people of color now outnumber those of whites.
In the wake of these changes, conservatives have unleashed a wave of policies from immigration to health care to taxes to undermine the promise of this new reality.
Ryan’s presumptive nomination to be vice president is only the latest effort to erase hard fought and necessary modifications to the United States. Romney wants him to be “one heart beat from the presidency.”
The irony of course is that after the doors of opportunity were thrown open for millions of women and people of color—during the 1960s and 1970s—America had the strongest years of broad-based, equitable economic growth and lower debt levels. This era was when the modern American middle class solidified, especially for people of color.
CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman, has been facing 2nd degree murder charges since being attacked last summer by a group of white adults.
CeCe and several friends, all black, were walking to the grocery store on June 5th, 2011 when white adults standing in the patio area of a South Minneapolis bar started screaming racist and transphobic slurs at the youth. CeCe, who is only 23 years old, approached the group and replied that she and her friends would not tolerate hate speech. In response, one of the white women said “I’ll take you bitches on” and smashed her glass into CeCe’s face. The broken glass sliced all the way through CeCe’s cheek. A fight ensued between the adults and the young people after this initial attack and one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed.
As if it were not sufficiently tragic that a group of young people were subjected to such severe violence and that Dean Schmitz lost his life, police arriving at the scene arrested CeCe, denied her adequate medical treatment, interrogated her for hours, and placed her in solitary confinement. In the aftermath of being attacked, she was not treated with care, but launched into another nightmare. The only person arrested that night, she has since been charged with two counts of 2nd degree murder. Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman has the power to drop these charges, a choice he made in multiple other clear instances of self-defense this year, but he has not yet done so.
CeCe’s story is a portrait of the United States Criminal Justice System. Her story is what is meant when we are told that transgender people, especially transgender women of color, experience disproportionate rates of police harassment, profiling, and abuse. She is living one of the stories rolled into statistics like: trans people are ten to fifteen times more likely to be incarcerated than cisgender (not transgender) people, or nearly half of African American transgender people have spent time in jail or prison.
These statistics are the result of the all of the ways that transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are denied access to the resources and opportunities that we need to live healthy lives free of violence, discrimination, and oppression. Transgender people consistently experience high levels of harassment in school, extreme levels of unemployment due to discrimination and lack of education, denial of competent medical care, inability to change identification documents, and disproportionate violence and harassment. Nevertheless, for generations transgender people, especially transgender women of color, have been at the forefront of movements against police brutality, white supremacy, economic injustice, and for queer liberation and gender self-determination.