Black Women’s Roundtable releases 2015 Report on Black Women in the U.S

Melanie Campbell
Melanie Campbell

Black Women in the United States, 2015, continues the Black Women’s Roundtable’s (BWR) annual inquiry into the challenges and triumphs of Black women across the

  • This year’s report, however, provides an even more nuanced examination of Black women’s experiences, not only uncovering broad, national trends, but also taking a specific deep dive into the conditions of Black women in key To that aim, we’ve included a special “Voices” section which shares the experiences and personal narratives of state-based BWR leaders who are on the front lines, addressing every day issues that are central to the Black woman’s experience across the nation. As such, this report is unique. It provides a broad perspective on the conditions of Black women throughout the nation while also giving a more refined view that allows an authentic reflection of the varied conditions of Black women. From the most remote rural areas of this nation to bustling urban centers, this report shares a three dimensional representation of the lives of Black women throughout these United States.

The following are some of the key findings from the report:

The Economic Recovery Has Left Black Women Behind

In recent years, as the recovery has taken hold, Black women have continued to trail behind others in reaping the benefits of an improved economy. As of February, 2015, the nation’s overall jobless rate fell to its lowest point in seven years (5.5%), while women’s unemployment fell to a six-year low (4.9%) and white women’s unemployment hit a seven-year low (4.2%). Completely counter to that trend, Black women’s unemployment actually ticked up, reaching 8.9%.

  • While overall, Black women’s unemployment is less than it was a year ago, it still remains significantly higher than all other women in America.

Black Women’s Work Still Undervalued in Parts of the Deep South

  • Black women’s earnings are not uniformly distributed across the nation. Instead, there are specific states that are clear winners and losers when it comes to the wages associated with Black women’s work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst states in the nation are primarily clustered in the Deep South, with Mississippi carrying the dubious distinction of being the worst state in the nation for Black women’s earnings. Mississippi is followed closely by Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama.
  • The best states for Black women’s earnings are geographically diverse. Leading the pack is Maryland, followed by California, New Jersey, and New York.

Black Women Can’t Educate Their Way to Fair Pay

 While it is true that educational advancement provides an important pathway to opportunity in America, it is also critical to understand that wage differentials persist across every level of education. In other words, education is not a conduit to fair pay.

  • A Black woman high school graduate fails to earn as much as a white male drop- out with a 9th grade education or less ($30,450 vs. $32,675).


  • Black women w i t h Bachelor’s degrees , on average,   earn   about $10,000 less than White men with an Associate’s degree ($49,882 vs. $59,014). In fact, it would take nearly two Black women college graduates to earn what the average White male college graduate earns by himself ($55,804 vs. $100, 620).


  • Compared to other women, Black women fall at or near the bottom in earnings across every level of education. Among college degree holders specifically, Black women take home the lowest earnings across the board.


Black Women Significantly Overrepresented among the Nation’s Poor


  • In spite of consistently leading all women in labor market participation, Black women are among the most likely in America to be poor. In fact, the poverty rate of Black women (25.1%) more than doubles that of White women (10.3%) and Asian women (11.5%), and slightly eclipses that of Latinas (24.8%).


  • Among single mother households, nearly half of such families headed by Black women are poor (46.7%), just below the proportion attributed to Latina-headed households (48.6%), but significantly more than is the case among single white (33.1%) and Asian mothers (26.3%).


The Health Care Coverage of Black Women is Being Held Hostage by States that Reject Medicaid Expansion


  • Black women who live in states that have accepted Medicaid expansion are much less likely to be uninsured than those who don’t. Fully 9 out of the top 10 states that boast the lowest percentage of uninsured Black women are states that have adopted Medicaid.


  • Black Women who live in states that have failed to accept Medicaid expansion stand a much greater likelihood of going without health In fact, 9 of the 10 lowest ranked states when it comes to health insurance coverage for Black women have each failed to adopt the expansion of Medicaid.


  • Among states that have Black populations that exceed 20% of their total population, only Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia rank among the top states when it comes to Black women’s health insurance coverage. All of the remaining states with high Black populations are located in the Deep South, and each of these states rejected Medicaid expansion. In addition, all are among the worst in the nation when it comes to Black women’s health insurance coverage (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana).

Strikingly High Black Women’s Maternal Mortality Rate Gets Even Higher

  • Black women are facing a maternal mortality crisis in America, and the silence is deafening. Black maternal mortality rose from a rate of 36 deaths to 42.8 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2009 and Maternal mortality for white women remained virtually unchanged during the same time period (12 to 12.5 per 100,000 live births).


  • Black women’s maternal mortality rate is more than 10 times that of women in most other industrialized nations. In fact, a Black woman in America would more than double her chance of surviving childbirth if she lived in places like Lebanon, Libya, Albania, or Serbia.

Black Women Face Greater Risk of Exposure to Violence

  • Black women are more than three times as likely to be murdered as are white women and are in fact, the most likely group of women in America to become a victim of homicide.


  • Nearly 15 times as many Black women were murdered by a man she knew rather than a stranger.


  • 52 % of Black women who knew their offenders were wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of the person who murdered

Black Women are Making Political Gains in Congress and as Mayors

  • Black women picked up four seats in Congress following the 2014 election Included in those gains were Mia Love, who made history as the first Black women elected to Congress as a Republican and as the first Black woman elected as a representative of Utah.


  • Democrat, Bonnie Watson Coleman also made political history as the first Black woman elected to Congress from the state of New Jersey.


  • Black women saw gains in Mayor’s offices last year as Ivy Taylor of San Antonio, Texas and Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC joined Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as Mayor of a Top 100 City.

When it Comes to State Politics, Challenges Still Abound for Black Women

  • Although several Black women made historic runs for statewide offices in 2014, including stand-out Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner’s bid for Secretary of State as well as the highly qualified “Georgia Five,” each running for a statewide office in Georgia. None of those bids were fully supported by the state parties which contributed to these races being unsuccessful. Each, however, garnered more than one million votes, a solid foundation to build upon for future efforts.


  • When it comes to Black women’s political representation in state legislatures, Georgia leads the nation followed by Maryland, New York, and Mississippi.

At the Federal Level, Bright Future on the Horizon for Black Women

  • Loretta Lynch, Attorney General nominee is poised to become President Obama’s first Black woman constitutional cabinet appointment.


  • After a 17-year absence from the U.S. Senate, two Black women have announced their 2016 candidacy for a Senate seat; Attorney General Kamala Harris of California, and Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland.


What Black Women Want

According to a Black Women’s Roundtable post-election survey in 2014, the top priority issues of Black voters are: earning a living wage (23%), affordable health care (19%), and quality public education (18%). Other areas of concern include retirement security (9%), college affordability (8%), and the expansion of voting rights (7%).

Voices from the States

 “The citizens of Birmingham are being left holding the bag for the criminal acts of elected officials. A community that is 70% Black, and mostly headed by impoverished single mothers are now saddled with the burden of paying $8.6 billion in sewer fees for a system that’s only valued at $1.15 billion. Due to the corrupt activities of former elected officials, a bankruptcy agreement was made that left the city owing some 3.25 times more than they did pre-bankruptcy and twelve times more than the asset was worth in the first place. Now a community that has a median income of only $30,000 is forced to pay 60% of the refinancing cost for the area’s sewer system, either directly or indirectly as a result of pass-throughs from commercial businesses that service the area. So the 21% of sewer users who are poor and mostly Black women are paying 60% of the total $14.4 billion to be collect by the federal court. That works out to an average sewer bill of $3,538 per person per year, more than 10% of their annual income when the “high end” of EPA guidelines is only 2%. That’s abusive. That’s criminal. And that’s wrong.”

–Honorable Sheila Tyson, Alabama

“During this past midterm election we had the opportunity to historically elect five African American women as Constitutional officers – this would have been a first for the state of Georgia and I believe any state. We have to look at some of the reasons why this didn’t happen. The “Fabulous Five,” as they were dubbed, each received over one million votes (only one other Black women statewide candidate had gotten one million votes in Georgia’s history). They had no major campaign funds, no political signs such as yard signs/billboards, no major media advertising nor support from the major campaigns/parties. Only during the last month of the election were they included in some of the major candidates’/parties advertising and activities — only to be mentioned as part of a six woman ticket – no individual attention. They were able to garner the million plus votes through a grassroots campaign of going city to city, county to county with the fact that they represented an opportunity to make history.”

–Helen Butler, Georgia

“The 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions were particularly brutal. In addition to passing Monster Voting Laws, the new majority passed a number of regressive laws that restricted women’s access to healthcare, slashed unemployment assistance, refused to expand Medicaid, required drug-testing of some people in public assistance, declined to increase funding for education and teacher’s salaries, eliminated statewide public commissions, and worked to consolidate its power by reducing the authority of local elected bodies. The impact of these changes were fought long and hard. In addition to weakening the power of African American voters, many were also harmed by mean-spirited policies that cut unemployment insurance and the refusal to expand Medicaid. These policies have had a negative economic impact on working families.”

–Erin Byrd, North Carolina

“As I travel and work across the state of Florida as a Community Organizer and Convener, I find that as a Black woman, people are interested in my work or want me to be a part of their team because of my passion, dedication, and the commitment I bring to the table. As I work with other Black women in the state I find it to be true for them as well. But what I see from the lens of a Black woman is that people, programs, and organizations profit from and talk about empowering the Black community and Black women, but they only do so on paper, or in talk. When it comes to putting Black women in leadership roles, where they are decision-makers or lifting them up for the good work that they do, this becomes problematic. Black women have always been one of the main ingredients of the progressive movement in the South, yet we do not profit from the progressive movement at the level of dedication or commitment that we give.”

–Salandra Benton, Florida

“Detroit saw a greater proportion of babies die before their first birthday than any other American city. For every 1,000 babies born in Michigan, almost 7 die by age one. The outcomes are even direr for Black babies. The infant mortality rate for Black babies is more than twice that for white ones. Also, pregnancy related deaths in Michigan puts our state in the bottom fifth for maternal mortality. Detroit women, specifically, are dying from pregnancy related causes at a rate three times greater than the nation. Data from the Department of Community Health show that at least six Detroit moms die yearly, on average, as a direct result of pregnancy or childbirth. That translates to a maternal death rate of 58.7 per 100,000 babies —higher than in Libya, Uruguay or Vietnam.”

–Danielle Atkins, Michigan

“As Michigan continues to make its way out of the worst economy the state has seen in decades, the issues that particularly affect Black women remain consistent with national issues. Specifically, recent legislative burdens related to women accessing female related healthcare, continues to be debated. Most women of color in Michigan use non-traditional health clinics such as Planned Parenthood for women’s health including cancer screenings, after miscarriage care, etc. HB4145, if passed, will prohibit Michigan from giving funds to any organization that either provides abortions or even refers women to places that do, even if the referral is for something other than an abortion. HB4146 would require an abortion performed after 19 weeks to only be done in hospitals that have a neonatal unit (in Kalamazoo County/Southwest Michigan, there would only be two hospitals with NICU’s. Neither of those hospitals perform elective abortions unless there are medical reasons). For all Michigan women, these two legislative bills would create an increased burden to accessing care. Especially for poor women, who, in Michigan, are also more than likely to be women of color or more specifically, Black.”

–Honorable Stephanie Moore, Michigan

“I look at the faces of Black women every day. I see their pain and wonder, what can we collectively contribute to reduce their stress? I hear them say, “I’m good!” But I know they are hurting. I hear them ponder, “Why am I here?” How can they overcome the systems that keep them weighed down so low? Their energy is snatched from them, yet we expect them to thrive. How? Further, Black women in Pittsburgh have the lowest life expectancy in the United States and domestic violence is a real danger for Black women in Pittsburgh. We must do more to protect the lives of Black women.

Rev. Dr. Judith Moore, Pennsylvania

“The issues of economic justice, environmental justice and social justice intersect with reproductive justice. We understand that young people care about comprehensive sex education; that migrant farm workers and native women exposed to uranium mining care about poor reproductive health outcomes because of exposure to environmental toxins. Reproductive justice is an environmental justice issue. There are few things that make a bigger dent in a woman’s paycheck than the expense of having and caring for a child. Equal pay for the same work, a living wage, paid sick leave and paid family leave are economic issues that are reproductive justice issues. Women cannot have reproductive justice without economic justice. The ability to earn a living wage to be able to take care of the children you have or deciding to whether or if you can affordto have another child is a reproductive justice issue. The right to safe, affordable housing and living free from fear of domestic abuse, staying in relationships because there is nowhere else to go, are reproductive justice issues. Social justice is a reproductive justice issue.”

– Letetia Daniels Jackson, California

1 Black Women’s Roundtable, 2014. Black Women in the United States, 2014.
2 Ibid.
3 National Women’s Law Center. August, 2011. Employment Crisis Worsens for Black Women During the Recovery.
4 Ibid.
5 Change, Mariko. Spring, 2010. Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future. Insight Center for Community and Economic Development.
6 Ibid.
7 Richard, Katherine. October, 2014. The Wealth Gap for Women of Color. Center for Global Policy Solutions. 8 Dan Mangan. March 16, 2015. 16.5 M Gain Health Coverage Under Obamacare: Government. CNBC.
9 Randa Morris. January 15, 2015. Republicans are Killing Women: U.S. Maternal Death Rate Climbs; Female Deaths Rise in GOP Counties
10 Ibid.
11 CDC Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Child Health, USA 2013.
12 The World Bank. 2014. Maternal Mortality Ratio.
13 Violence Policy Center. 2015. Black Homicide Victimization in the United States.
14 Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community. Intimate Partner Violence in the African American Community Fact Sheet.
15 Women of Color Network. Domestic Violence in Communities of Color.
16 Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. African American Women in Elective Office.
17 Kelley Ditmar and Glenda Carr. February 17, 2015. A Recent History: Black Women’s Political Representation. The Huffington Post.
18     -worst-voter-turnout-in-72-years.html
19 women-voters
20     -249.pdf
21 america/
22     -unemployment-50-years/
23 disparities


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