The Unique And Overlooked Struggles Of Women Of Color
In an imperfect society, such as the one we live in, we often see discussions about population “gaps”– the education gap between suburban and inner-city students, the income gap between men and women, the economic gap between the top earners and the dwindling middle class, etc., etc., etc.
A significant gap that is rarely talked about or even mentioned in the political rhetoric is the gap between white women and women of color. Universities boast about high percentages of women applying to their institutions, however what they fail to reveal is the lack of racial diversity on most campuses, particularly concerning the number of women of color attending college, graduating, then going on to earn an advanced degree.
According to the 2010 census, women of color are a growing demographic, representing 36% of all women and 18% of the entire U.S. population. While women of color are increasing in numbers, the amount of minority women earning advanced degrees is at a stale mate while more and more of these women are entering poverty.
This issue is clearly seen when looking at the workplace wage gap and the educational attainment gap. The Center for American Progress gathered data from the federal Department of Labor in these two areas and found that white women on average earned $703 weekly, white African American women and Latinas earned substantially less at $595 and $518, respectively, in 2011.
In addition, almost 40% of white women yielded post-secondary degrees, while only 6.5% of African American women, 4.9% of Latinas, 3.8% of Asian women, and .4% of Native American women earned a bachelor’s or masters’s degree. There are well over 55 million women of color in this country, and only about 15% of them have post-high school degrees.
The most important question to ask is the most obvious: why is this happening? With all the advancements our society has made in terms making college more assessable to women, why are women of color being left behind?
The answer may lie in the price of education and the rise in poverty rates.
The National Women’s Law Center investigated poverty among women and families from the years 2000 to 2010 using the latest census data. The center found that more than 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, nearly 44% living in extreme poverty (incomes less than half of the federal poverty level), which points to just how the economic crisis is affecting women in particular. However, while the poverty rate for white women rose from 8.3 in 200 to 10.4 in 2010, an unfortunate 2%, the poverty rate for black women rose from 22% to 25.6% in the same years. In addition, the poverty rate for Latinas rose from just under 21% in 2000 to 25% in 2010, and from 9.7% to 12.2% for Asian women.
Poverty rates raised for women of all ethnicities and races, which points to a much broader issue, but it is important to note that the poverty rates for women of color have always been significantly higher than those of white women.
Image courtesy of thinkprogress.org
To quote the study done by the National Women’s Law Center:
Among racial and ethnic groups, [Latinas] experienced the largest, and only statistically significant, increase in poverty in 2010, with their poverty rate rising to 25.0 percent (up from 23.8 percent in 2009).
One in four Latinas are impoverished– this is a disturbing and scary statistic when looking around our country today.
This isn’t to deepen the divide among white women and their minority counterparts: it is clear that white women are also affected by poverty and see wage injustice compared to men. Women who work full time only made 78% what men made in 2010, which is something white women and women of color have in common. However, women of color still make considerably less. Latina made almost half what white men made and Black women were paid 62% compared to white men.
This differences have created a striking divide between white women, who are more likely to join the feminist movement, and women of color. How can these women worry about access to birth control and their representation in Congress when they have more pressing and immediate concerns? One in four Black women are probably more worried about how they’re going to feed their children.
What “gaps” do you see in society that don’t get enough attention in politics or the media? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below.
Written by Alicia Perez
Additional sources: census.gov
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