Black Women’s Contributions to the Labor Force By Demetrius Dillard

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As the transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month comes to pass, it is only fitting to chronicle yet another major milestone that Black women have achieved.

In spite of the numerous economic and social woes Black America faces, there has been some marginal-yet-important progress that Black women are making.

Like many other historical accomplishments made by Black women on national and international scales, the progress, impact and contributions Black women have made to the workforce have often gone unnoticed and unrecognized by mainstream media and hegemonic society.

Historically, Black women have demonstrated profound resilience and willpower to overcome institutional discrimination along with the deplorable interpersonal prejudices and racial biases evident in the workplace.

The Women’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor published a 2016 report titled “Black Women in the Labor Force,” which notes the following:

  • “On average, Black women tend to have less favorable outcomes than their White, non-Hispanic counterparts. Black women still face a stark wage gap and are less likely to work in higher-paid occupations. Raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, ensuring adequate working conditions and expanding opportunities for higher wage occupations would greatly impact the lives of Black women and their families.”
  • Of the women in the labor force in the U.S., Black women comprise roughly a seventh, or 14.3 percent.
  • The report additionally highlighted that “historically, Black women have had high labor force participation rates compared to other women.”
  • Management, professional and related occupations have employed the largest share of Black women since 2009. And though the share of Black women in managerial and professional-related roles is below the share of White women employed in these occupations, the share of Black women employed in management, professional and related occupations has gradually increased overtime.

Similarly, according to a recent feature published by the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), an extensive report that provides scholarly analyses of key issues to Black women’s well-being throughout the U.S., Black women make up more than half (52.9%) of the Black workforce, but reportedly only earn 77 cents for every dollar a White woman makes.

The report also said “Black women are the most likely demographic group in America to start their own business. Between 1997 and 2015, the number of companies started by Black women grew by 322% culminating in over 1.3 million businesses nationwide.” These numbers, according to reports, prove that Black women are the fasting growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.

Although Black women fall behind when it comes to revenue generation for businesses in comparison to Latina-owned firms, Asian women-owned firms and White women-owned firms, the BWR report highlighted once again that they are “especially likely to start a business” – something much-needed in the Black community.

Astoundingly, Black women have not only benefited most from steady job growth over the last few years – due to their stronger labor force attachment – but Black women’s employment rate (54.4 percent) is purportedly higher than that of White (53.7 percent) and Hispanic women (51.8 percent).

Furthermore, numerous reports as of late reveal that Black Women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.; however, the revenues their businesses bring in remain at the bottom.

Though very low in number, Black women have managed to make their mark as solid employees, professionals, managers and saleswomen in thriving companies in the technology industry including Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft. Some Black women have even gone on to become founders of their own tech startup companies.

Carolyn M. Brown of the Black Enterprise Magazine cited a fact sheet published by the Center for American Progress detailing the state of Black American women. The fact sheet, according to Brown, revealed that Black women are critical to the economic stability and success of their families and play a vital role in the U.S. economy, contributing as firm consumers, employees, and entrepreneurs despite the unique barriers they confront in the workplace which may obstruct their ability to succeed and thrive.

Brown also placed emphasis on the entrepreneurial endeavors of Black women, as are many other writers and scholars. “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%.” She added that “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 Black women in the U.S. have made substantial progress in the workforce, there still remain countless odds to be conquered as the Black community at large is in constant pursuit of economic empowerment, social justice and better quality lives.

Nevertheless, being a marginalized group while demonstrating an unrivaled ability to thrive in virtually every segment of American society, from sports, to politics, to the corporate sector, to journalism, and the arts and scores more, is beyond worthy of recognition.