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Gender and Racial Wage Gaps

The June 29 Supreme Court decision to overturn the use of affirmative action in college admissions highlights a perversion of the policy’s original intent. Affirmative action was conceived to urge the government to “act affirmatively to end race and gender discrimination in education and jobs.” Defined as positive action, it sought to include groups that had been previously excluded from opportunities and access.

The relationship between the gender and racial wage gap and the recent affirmative action decision highlights how closing the gap for women and people of color is inextricably linked to their access to higher education and higher-paying jobs that were historically only available to white men.

Still, affirmative action has not been enough to address ongoing wage disparities.

American women typically earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. According to Pew Research Center, “The pay gap persists even though women are more likely than men to have graduated from college.” Other social factors that contribute to this inequity include women’s age, marital status, motherhood, geographical location and race.

The gender wage gap is wider for women of color. Black women currently make 15% less than White women, and 35% less than White men, which has led to a 90% wealth gap between Black women and white men. Over the course of a 40-year career, Black women lose an estimated $964,400 to the wage gap.

The wage gap doesn’t just exist between men and women, but along gender and racial lines, which is why attacks on race-based affirmative action protects white women’s wealth and limits Black women’s opportunities to build it.

One example of bogus bias is seen in the recent court order restricting Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm, from awarding $20,000 grants to Black women entrepreneurs. The suit claims discrimination because the funding is intended to solely benefit Black women–but what the ruling fails to acknowledge is that designated funds are needed to address the discrimination and disparity that has excluded marginalized groups.

It is also important to note that wage gaps exist beyond race and gender. Gay and transgender workers earn 90 cents for every dollar of heterosexual workers, without workplace protections from discrimination or firing, and people with disabilities earn only 66 cents for every dollar earned by their counterparts who don’t have a physical disability.

Gender and racial wage gaps create inequities that become so pervasive that they appear normal and seemingly irreversible, but we can be mindful about narrowing the gap. Margaret Wack offers some strategies that can be implemented to address pay gaps and benefit all workers regardless of race or gender, including raising minimum wage, increasing pay transparency, unionizing workplaces, expanding paid family and medical leave, increasing access to child care, not basing employee pay on salary history, and correcting existing pay disparities.

Affirmative action was never a cure for economic inequality, but it was medicine. We need to start writing a new prescription.

I’m Robin Boylorn, until next time…keep it crunk!

Written by Robin Boylorn

Edited by Brittany Young




Robin M. Boylorn is a college professor, founding member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, and host of the award-winning Crunk Culture commentary.