Equal pay for Black women requires new laws like Philly’s salary history ban, advocates say

Black women across Pennsylvania earn just 60 cents on every dollar their white male non-Hispanic counterpart earns.

Philadelphia City Hall during the daytime in summer.

Philadelphia City Hall (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

Advocates pushing for social equity in the workplace say that more regulation could close the pay gap between men and women from laws on the books in Philadelphia already to those proposed in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day falls on Thursday. The pay disparity for Black women nationwide who work full-time is 67 cents on every dollar their white male non-Hispanic counterpart earns.

In Pennsylvania, Black women earn 60 cents on every dollar, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

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That totals a gap of $25,799 each year for more than 218,600 Black women across the state. Over the course of a career that spans four decades, that can add up to nearly $1 million because of disparity in pay for Black women, according to estimates by the National Women’s Law Center. 

White women earn about 79 cents on the dollar and Latinas earn 55 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterparts.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 already prohibits men and women to be paid different wages by employers for the same job.

But that disparity still exists — even in jobs where there’s a high concentration of Black women like teachers and nurses — said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center.

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“The Black women working in those jobs are still paid about 20% less than their white male counterparts in the same jobs,” Martin said. “It’s long past time for our nation to invest in Black women.”

To combat this reality, advocates say new laws are required such as one that’s been the law in Philadelphia for the past three years. Any employer in Philadelphia is prohibited from asking about salary history of workers during the hiring process. The goal is to untether workers — especially women — from lower salaries.

“If you are held to your prior salary, you are effectively forcing Black women to be stuck with that discriminatory pay going forward,” said Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

In 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney signed the Wage Equity Ordinance into law after unanimous passage by Philadelphia City Council. But the law was challenged in the courts after the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia filed a lawsuit to block it. In 2018, a federal judge struck down the city law. In February 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations began enforcing the ban on salary history questions during the interview process in September 2020. The law threatens businesses with $2,000 fines per violation.

In 2018, then-Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order that prohibits Pennsylvania state agencies from asking applicants their salary history. But it’s still legal for private sector employers to do so across much of the state.

More than a dozen states have already banned such a practice including Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

Pennsylvania Democrats have attempted to pass salary transparency laws which would mandate employers to post pay ranges on job advertisements but the legislation has repeatedly failed. Employers must disclose compensation on job ads in New York and Colorado.

Some question whether salaries are much of a secret once an employee begins at a new job.

“You know, people are going to talk about salary anyway,” said Portia Reddick White, lead strategist for policy for the National Council of Negro Women. “People always compare their salaries to others at the job.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a proposed federal law which was reintroduced this year. Its House sponsor Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro says it would close the loopholes in the Equal Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act has been proposed since the late 1990s but has failed to pass Congress.

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