Race and gender play an important role in economic outcomes. In addition to the gender pay gap, women of color lag well behind white women in economic well-being.
A recent infographic “Rhode Island Women of Color 2018: A Snapshot” published by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI) indicates sharp disparities between white women and women of color across a range of economic indicators including wages, poverty, educational attainment and home ownership. The WFRI research was done in partnership with the Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute.
Women of color comprise roughly a quarter of Rhode Island’s female population. They earn significantly lower wages than White women, and are much more likely to be poor. Among women 18-64 years of age, 9 percent of White women are poor, while 18 percent of Asian women, 22 percent of Black women and 20 percent of Latina women are below the poverty line. Among those over 65, there is an even greater discrepancy: 31 percent of Latina women are poor, three-and-half times the rate of White women.
Black and Latina women are more likely to be employed than are White women. The labor-force participation rate for females over the age of 16 in Rhode Island is 60 percent, and is lower for Whites (59 percent participation rate) than it is for Black (61 percent) and Latina (65 percent) women. One reason may be that young White women are more likely to be students than are women of color. White and Asian women hold four-year degrees at much higher rates than do Latina and Black women. Of course, these differences in educational attainment are a major factor affecting wages, and are among the reasons Latina woman can expect to earn $1.2 million less over the course of 40 years of work than a non-Hispanic White man.
Two in five Rhode Island women work in health care, social assistance or educational services. Women of color are particularly likely to labor in these fields, often in lower-paid positions like personal care aides and nursing assistants. Eighty-seven percent of Rhode Island’s healthcare support workers are women, and women of color account for nearly half of these workers. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the wages of 96,700 Rhode Island women (either by raising their wage to $15, or as a result of increases as pay scales are adjusted).
Another area where women of color are at a disadvantage is housing, as a much larger percentage of their income goes to housing costs than is the case for White women. Latino women spend nearly half of their income (48 percent) on housing. The rates for Black, Asian and White women are 45, 39 and 30 percent respectively. Moreover, Rhode Island has the second lowest home ownership rate for households of color in the country.
“While we often hear about the gender wage gap and its subsequent wealth gap for women, this report really puts a spotlight on how deep the inequities go for our sisters of color,” said Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “Efforts to increase the minimum wage and ensure fair pay are just a few initiatives that we are working on with community partners. However, more needs to be done. We want to hear from the community as to how best to use the findings of this report.”
The WFRI will hold a series of community forums to share information and invite ideas about how best to address the inequities. As part of the series, the Fund will host a ticketed event “Cocktails & Conversations: Women of Color Research” on January 30 from 6-8pm at the Tech Collective in Providence. Panelists will include Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute; Angela Ankoma, Executive Vice President of the United Way of Rhode Island and Traniesha West, Community Organizer for Working Families.
The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island was founded in 2001 as a field of interest fund, and became a 501(c) in 2005. In addition to research and advocacy, it makes grants to local programs that improve the lives of women and girls. The Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute, a nonpartisan research and policy organization founded in 1999 by Linda Katz and Nancy Gerwitz, is dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low and modest-income Rhode Islanders.
While Rhode Island is a small state of approximately one million people, and regional and local economies and demographics vary across the country, gender and race disparities are found everywhere. Increasingly women’s foundations and other non-profits are upping their efforts in improving the lives of women of color. Among the major funders in this area is the NoVo Foundation which has recently allocated $90 million in funding to empower girls of color in the U.S. Southeast, and the Ms. Foundation which has committed $25 million to funding programs targeting women of color.