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Black Women In The U.S. Progress Made, But Key Areas Need Dire National Attention And Urgent Action

A report released recently byBlack Women's Roundtable Public Policy Network (BWR), Black Women in the U.S., 2014, found that significant progress has been made since key historical markers however, there are many areas that remain in need of dire national attention and urgent action.  The report was released during a legislative briefing at the historic headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The event kicks off the BWR National Summit which took place in late March.

"This report is a quick glimpse at where we are. We use this document as a roadmap during our BWR summit," says Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO National Coalition and convener, BWR. "Black women are a powerful force and we plan to demonstrate that power by working collaboratively and intentionally across issues to usher in a new set of progressive polices and leaders to champion our cause. In the coming days, we will unveil specific details about the implementation of the Power of the Sister Vote !"

"We look at the tragedies and the triumphs surrounding Black Women's lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry," Adds Avis Jones-DeWeever, PhD, Incite Unlimited and editor of the report.  "Black women have made progress since key historical markers such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, and the onset of the War on Poverty, but many areas remain that need urgent action." 

The following are some of the key findings from Black Women in the U.S., 2014 :

Black Women's Health Still in Need of Dire Attention

  • For Black women, having a baby can be deadly. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is fully three times that of white women and is on par with several developing nations. 

Sixty Years Post-Brown, Education Still Separate, Still Unequal, Yet Black Women Still Excel

  • While much recent attention has been focused on the degree to which Black boys are impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. Black girls experience an out-of school suspension rate fully 6 times that of white girls.
  • In spite of these challenges, over the past five decades, the high school graduation rates of Black women have jumped 63%, virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2%), and significantly narrowing the gap with white women (7%).

Black Women Work, but Lag Behind in Pay

  • As they have from the beginning of their experience in America, Black women lead all women in labor force participation rates.  Even as mothers of small children, Black women are overwhelmingly likely to work. 
  • Yet, despite their strong work ethic, Black women remain behind economically largely due to a doubly disadvantaged wage gap and over-representation in low-wage fields.

No Golden Years for Black Women

  • Largely due to years of pay disadvantages, decreased access to employer-sponsored pension plans, and a stunning lack of overall wealth accumulation, Black women over 65 have the lowest household income of any demographic group in America.
  • Still, Black women are especially reliant on Social Security in their retirement years.  In fact, if it were not for social security, the poverty rate for Black women would more than double.

Labor Unions Make a Difference in the Working Lives of Black Women

  • Even though Unions have been under attack in recent years, Black women have maintained a higher rate of unionization than other groups.
  • Black women who are covered under collective bargaining agreements make higher wages and have greater access to benefits than women of all races or ethnicities who are non-unionized.

Black Women Vulnerable to Violence and the Criminal Justice System

  • Black women are especially likely to be a victim of violence in America.  In fact, no woman is more likely to be murdered in America today than a Black woman.  No woman is more likely to be raped than a Black woman.  And no woman is more likely to be beaten, either by a stranger or by someone she loves and trusts than a Black woman.
  • Though it is true that Black women remain more likely than any other group of women in America today to go to prison, the incarceration rates of Black women have declined tremendously in recent years.  In fact, Black women's incarceration rate has fallen from six times that of White women, to now, three times that of White women.

Black Women Mean Business

  • Black women are the fastest growing segment of the women-owned business market, yet Black women-owned firms trail all other women when it comes revenue generation.  Black women receive only 6% of the revenue generated by all women-owned businesses.  That compares to 29% received by White women.
  • Though data is largely unavailable broken down by both race and gender, we can impute that if Black women were to receive merely 6% of the 5% government target for awards to all women, then Black women business owners would receive a stunningly low .3% of all federal contracts.

Black Women and Politics, Still Unbought and Unbossed

  • Black women make up the most dynamic segment of the Rising American Electorate  In the past two Presidential elections, Black women led all demographic groups in voter turnout. 
  • And even without President Obama on the ballot, in the recent pivotal Virginia gubernatorial election, Black women once again, exceeded all other groups in turning out on Election Day.  As such, Black women were a key factor in turning Virginia Blue heading into the 2014 mid-term elections.
  • While Black women vote at dynamic rates, Black women remain woefully underrepresented in elected office.  Black women hold only 3% of state legislative seats, and less than 3% of seats in Congress.  And 2014 makes the 15th consecutive year that no Black woman has held a seat in the United States Senate.

Black Women Trailing in the Technology Race

  • Though proficiency in the STEM fields is widely acknowledged as a key for the workplace of the future, Black women lag far behind.  Today, Black women only make up 2% of practicing scientists and engineers in the workforce.
  • Many Black women in college studying STEM disciplines report feelings of isolation and experience toxic environments.  Black female STEM students report being excluded from study groups, having difficulty finding study partners, and being assigned fewer tasks than other group members based on assumptions of incompetence.

The BWR Report,

Black Women in the United States, 2014:

Progress & Challenges 50 Years After the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education is the first in an annual series of reports that will utilize data from a wide range of government and private sources to provide a broad view of the lives of Black women at this critical juncture. Contributing writers are: 

  • The Economy -- Channel Hardy, J.D., National Urban League Policy Institute
  • Education -- Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D., Incite Unlimited
  • Politics -- Elsie Scott, Ph.D., Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center, Howard University, Waikinya Clanton, NOBEL-Women
  • Business  -- Felicia Davis, Building Green Network
  • The Labor Movement -- Carol Joyner, Labor Project for Working Families, Robin Williams, UFCW
  • STEM -- Joy celyn Tate, J.D., Telecom Talk  
  • Exposure to Violence & the Criminal Justice -- Avis Jones-DeWeever, PhD,Incite Unlimited
  • Health & Wellness --Avis Jones-DeWeever, PhD, Incite Unlimited and Dr. L. Toni Lewis, SEIU Healthcare
  • The Retirement Years -- Edna Kane-Williams, AARP
  • What's At Stake: A BWR Public Policy Agenda for 2014 &BeyondMelanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Makani Themba, The Praxis Project, Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Ph.D., Skinner Leadership Institute
  • BWR Civic Engagement and Empowerment Strategy (2014-2020)- Melanie Campbell, NCBCP, Letetia Daniels Jackson, Tandeka LLC, Groundswell Fund
BWR, an intergenerational women's policy network of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), stays at the forefront of championing just and equitable public policy on behalf of Black women and girls and promotes health and wellness, economic security, education and global empowerment as key elements for success.  For more information or a copy of the report visit .