Updated: Mar 5, 2020
As if our very lives depended on it, because more than likely, they do.
The conversation around pay and wealth inequality has shifted from the "women being paid 70 cents to a man's dollar" line to more nuanced breakdowns and studies on the effects of income and wealth inequalities on mental health and mental illness. We now know that White women are paid 70 cents, while Black women and other women of color (except Asian women) being paid 50-60 cents, and so on. We also know that poverty and working class standing has higher associations with a higher risk of mortality, and that Black Americans run a disproportionately higher risk of mortality due to being more income segregated than other groups.
How does this read out for Black women? We're the most active group in the American workforce, but due to the intersections of racism and sexism, we're occupationally segregated out of more technical workforce sectors, more likely to work stagnant low-wage jobs, and less likely to attain promotions to managerial positions, which means we're more cut off from needed physical and mental health resources. Even in other workforce sectors, Black women are paid less than our White counterparts, and would have to work an extra 19 months to earn the salary they make. The stress of working in a society that still perpetuates systemic oppression of you and your group, cutting you off from making the money you need to make and access to resources that would enable you to take care of yourself and/or your famil(ies)y has toxic consequences.
Let's take my life, for instance. I'm a college graduate with a Bachelor's degree. I've been working in my field for almost two years with a nonprofit after freelancing here and there and taking on admin jobs while finishing my education. A person with my experience in my field should be making about $12,000 more a year than my current salary, and to even get this job, I had to take a $7K pay-cut from my former salary as an admin, and even THAT salary took close to 10 years to get to.
LET THAT SINK IN FOR A MINUTE, FOLKS.
Even the salary I made as an admin was lower than what I probably should've been paid, having over 5 years of experience in that field, yet THAT salary is MORE than I'm currently compensated, in the very industry I busted my ass to get to!
So, because I make much less money, paying bills on time and ensuring I have food and meds until the next pay period is a source of constant stress and anxiety, which isn't great as a person with GAD and MDD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression Disorder). Less income also means less preventative health care visits and therapy; case in point, my case with a local counseling center I frequented for therapy was recently closed due to missed visits.
Why would I miss visits? Because the $50 that would usually go to my insurance co-pay often went to making sure I didn't go hungry. And no money or time for therapy sessions means missed work days because I'm either mentally drained or in a depressive phase because I have no money, no food, and cannot get out of bed. Or, there's my favorite: getting out of bed and making it to the bathroom to shower, only to get BACK INTO bed because I can't stop feeling overly anxious that something---somehow, somewhere---will cause my body to break down, and the only place I feel safe and secure is my bed, shaking while in the fetal position.
These are a fraction of the causatum I navigate as a single, working-class Black woman in a white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal society. If you're a Black woman with a family? Whether mental illness is present or not, the consequences of income inequality are compounded, on top of the already present anxieties of raising Black children in the very same society.
Until society as a whole truly begins dismantling capitalism---and I honestly don't see it being dismantled within my lifetime---we all have to survive this degrading system as best we can. There have been conversations and some states have increased the minimum wage, but these are only "stop the bleeding" solutions that don't really stop the hemorrhaging Black women and other people of color face with pay and income inequality. It's going to take those with the most amount of privilege paying what they owe, and working to change the climate to one where Black women are paid what we're owed, as if it's a life or death issue. Because for many of us, it is.