Aug. 22 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. Far from a celebration, this day represents how far black women nationwide had to work into 2019 to match what white, non-Hispanic men earned in 2018.
Nationally, black women working full-time, year-round earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men working full-time, year-round. This 39-cent gap is almost twice the gap experienced by women overall, but it is even worse for black women in South Carolina — in 2017, they earned only 57.5 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men in South Carolina, among the largest wage gaps in the country.
The gap reflects how black women’s work is too often undervalued and underpaid. But the pay gap is an issue facing all South Carolina women, who statewide earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by South Carolina men.
It is long past time for us to do something.
In January, we introduced “The Act to Establish Pay Equity” into both chambers of the General Assembly, known as S. 372 in the Senate and H. 3615 in the House. The bill would enshrine in state law a commitment to fair pay, not just for women but for all workers in South Carolina.
It would promote accountability by requiring employers to have job-related reasons consistent with business necessity to justify pay differences. It would protect against retaliation when workers challenge illegal pay practices, limit how employers use prior salary to determine future wages, and improve remedies for pay discrimination. The bill clarifies that discrimination — whether based on sex, race, or another factor — has no place in pay decision-making, and would help root out discrimination uniquely experienced by black women because of their sex and race.
The math isn’t hard. Black women contribute enormously to their families’ economic stability and this is increasingly true for all women in South Carolina. An estimated 70.3% of South Carolina mothers are primary, sole, or co-bread winners for their families. Equal pay means more dollars to cover child care and school expenses, car payments, household bills, and health care costs while boosting consumer spending and the state’s economy.
South Carolina is one of only four states without an explicit equal pay law. Taking concrete action to promote equal pay would help black women in particular, South Carolina women and workers overall, and South Carolina families. We cannot afford to wait.
The writers are African American female South Carolina lawmakers: Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of District 66-Orangeburg; Rep. Wendy C. Brawley, District 70; Rep. Patricia Moore Henegan, District 54; Rep. Annie E. McDaniel, District 41; Rep. J. Anne Parks, District 12; Rep. Leola C. Robinson, District 25; Rep. Krystle N. Simmons, District 117; Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, District 31; Sen. Mia McLeod, District 22; Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, District 45, and Rep. Chandra E. Dillard, District 23.