North Carolina Has a Long Way to Go to Tackle Wage Equity

| by Beth Briggs

2020 kicked us in the knees, leaving us a little shaky and rather vulnerable. Everything has changed. Uncommon times call for conscientious examination of who we are and our personal and professional core values.

At Armstrong McGuire we have been intentional in discussions about how we demonstrate our values around diversity, equity, and inclusion in our professional conduct. Unfortunately, inequity is tightly woven within the fabric of our culture and our society. 

I recently read a report by Equity in the Center called Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture. I was moved by the following quote from the report:

“Achieving race equity — the condition where one’s racial identity has no influence on how one fares in society — is a fundamental element of social change across every issue area in the social sector. Yet the structural racism that endures in U.S. society, deeply rooted in our nation’s history, and perpetuated through racist policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages, prevents us from attaining it.”

Structural racism is evident throughout the policies and practices that surround education, housing, economic security, incarceration, and health care. Tragically, racial inequities in our healthcare system are reflected in the significant percentages of COVID-19 deaths among people of color.

Racial identity has a significant influence on economic stability and the ability to earn a living wage, a critical indicator of health and well-being. In North Carolina, the wage inequity among women, particularly women of color, Hispanic, and Latina women is a glaring example of the tremendous challenges that demand social change.

According to the 2018 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report on The Status of Women in North Carolina: Employment and Earnings, produced for the The NC Council of Women, the median income for women in the state is $36,400, which is $8,600 less than for a man, creating an 80.9% gender earning income gap. Over a thirty-year period, this translates into earning $258,000 less than her male counterpart, money that could go toward the purchase of a home or education for her children.

The median income for a White woman in North Carolina is $40,180 compared to $49,762 for a White man. A woman of color’s median income is $31,821 or 70.7% of her male counterpart who has a median income of $40,422. Hispanic women fare even worse with a median income level of $24,322 or 48.9% of a man.  

The disparity is even more pronounced where the median Black household income in North Carolina is $34,000, $20,000 less than white households at $53,855, according to a recent report by the NC Justice Center.

In urban counties the gap is even higher. Wake County’s median income for White families exceeds Black income by over $33,000 and in Mecklenburg County, Black household income is $32,455 or 44.3% of median White households.

These numbers are a direct reflection of the inequality that continues in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s poverty rate is 16.1%, which means one of every 6.2 residents is living in poverty. Females are 19% more likely to live in poverty than men and 24.9% of Black residents live below the poverty line.

Interestingly, the wage gap continues regardless of educational attainment. “Wake Invests In Women” is a collective impact initiative sponsored by Wake Tech to reduce the income gap among women of color by expanding education and access to STEM jobs. They recently produced a study that showed in Wake County, women without a high school diploma make 59% of a man with the same education, while women with a bachelor’s degree make 61% of men with bachelor’s degrees. Women with graduate degrees earn 60% of a male with a graduate degree.    

These numbers are aggravating because the needle is not moving significantly. It is also a call for action to become even more intentional about eliminating the wage gaps so that everyone working a full-time job can earn a livable wage and provide for their families and children. 

2020 has taught us many lessons but it is evident our human vulnerabilities and interconnectedness unites us. We are all in this dance together and if the rising tide lifts all boats, providing wage equity with intentionality toward people of color benefits everyone.

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