A Special Focus on Women of Color

A Special Focus on Women of Color

by January 2, 2015 0 comments

From The Leadership Conference Report: “50 Years after the Civil Rights Act: The Ongoing Work for Racial Justice in  the 21st Century”

While women are nearly half of the workforce and families depend on women’s income more than ever before, women still encounter discrimination in employment, education, and access to health care and experience unacceptably high levels of domestic violence.

Economic Security

Equal Pay: Overall women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Even as women earn degrees at higher rates than men, they continue to be paid less. In 2009, Congress and the Obama administration took significant action through the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made clear that every paycheck affected by discrimination is a discriminatory act and ensured that workers could bring litigation to hold their employers accountable for pay discrimination for as long as they were being paid less because of discrimination. In 2014, the administration went further by prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who disclose or discuss their wages and announcing its intent to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on compensation paid to employees. Also, the president ordered the Office of Personnel Management to evaluate the gender pay gap in the federal workforce.

At a time where women are nearly half of the workforce, African-American women working full time, year-round typically make 64 cents for every dollar paid to their White male counterparts, and Latina women make only 54 cents.

Minimum Wage: Women make up nearly two-thirds of all workers who are paid federal minimum wage or less ($7.25 per hour) and nearly three-quarters of workers in tipped occupations (for whom the minimum cash wage is $2.13 per hour). The Obama administration has taken steps to increase the pay of minimum wage workers. The president issued an Executive Order, No. 13658, raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour and increasing the tipped wage for these workers until it reaches 70 percent of the regular wage. And the president has called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and specifically supported passage of the Minimum Wage Fairness Act. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a regulation that extended the protection of the minimum wage and overtime laws to most home care workers, many of whom are women of color.

Twenty-two percent of minimum wage workers are women of color, compared to less than 16 percent of workers overall. These workers, often supporting families on their wages, are concentrated in occupations such as caring for children and elders, cleaning homes and offices, or waiting tables.

Time Away from Work for Caregiving and Illness: Only 12 percent of U.S. workers in the private sector have paid family leave and just 61 percent have paid sick leave. The inability to access paid time off has serious consequences: Nearly a quarter of people nationwide report that they have lost a job or have been threatened with losing their job because they needed to take time away from work to deal with a personal or family illness. And just three and a half days away from work means that the typical family without paid sick days jeopardizes their ability to buy groceries for a month.

African Americans and Latinos are less likely than White workers to have access to paid sick days or to paid family leave, or even to be able to access alternative work arrangements that would allow them to address a family or medical need.

Pregnancy in the Workplace: While many pregnant women are able to work through pregnancy without difficulty, some women need temporary job modifications in order to continue working safely through their pregnancies.

In many cases, the job modifications needed by pregnant workers are similar to the accommodations employers must provide to employees with temporary disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Women of color and immigrant women are disproportionally likely to work in some physically-demanding jobs and low-wage jobs, and thus are especially likely to need accommodations during pregnancy. Often employers refuse to make these adjustments for pregnant women, forcing women to make an impossible choice between keeping their jobs and protecting their health.

Equal Access to Educational

The proliferation of “zero tolerance” school discipline policies is having a disproportionate effect on students with disabilities, students who identify as LGBT, and students of color—particularly African-American girls. In 2011-12, 12 percent of African-American girls received an out-of-school suspension. This was more than any other group of girls (only 2 percent of White girls received an out-of-school suspension), and more than most groups of boys, with the exceptions of African-American boys (20 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native boys (13 percent). Furthermore, nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities received an out-of-school suspension, including 19 percent of African-American girls with disabilities and 27 percent of girls of two or more races with disabilities. A study of 2006-07 data on the suspension of middle school students showed that Black girls in middle schools had the fastest growing rates of suspension of any group of girls or boys.

Health Care Discrimination

Expanding Health Coverage through Medicaid: The Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) specifically allowed states to choose whether or not to expand eligibility in their Medicaid programs to all individuals with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. To date, 26 states and the District of Columbia have implemented this eligibility expansion, extending the health benefits and financial security of health insurance to approximately 5 million low-income Americans. If all 24 states that have yet to expand coverage through Medicaid did so, another 3.1 million low-income women would be eligible for health insurance, as would 3.9 million people of color. A National Women’s Law Center examination of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that uninsured low-income women do not get needed care because of cost 2.5 times as often as low-income women who have health insurance. Women of color have lower rates of contraceptive use than other women due, in part, to costs, but , because the ACA now requires private insurance plans to cover contraception with no cost-sharing, one of the key barriers women of color face to using these services has been removed.

Reproductive Health, Contraception, and Family Planning: As of August 1, 2011, a range of contraceptive and family planning services were added to the list of preventive services covered by the ACA that would be provided without patient co-payment. Recent data shows that 24 million more prescriptions for oral contraceptives were filled with no co-pay in 2013 than in 2012. Women of color have lower rates of contraceptive use than other women due, in part, to costs, but, because the ACA now requires private insurance plans to cover contraception with no cost-sharing, one of the key barriers women of color face to using these services has been removed.

In addition, the Medicaid program and the Title X family planning program specifically provide coverage for these services to low-income women. To date, however, seven states have failed to expand their Medicaid program or access to family planning services under Medicaid. As a result, millions of low-income women continue to go without coverage for contraceptives, and, in some states, this failure to expand contraceptive coverage disproportionately impacts women of color. For example, because of Texas’s decision not to expand eligibility for Medicaid, nearly one million people of color and 687,000 women will remain uninsured.

Title X provides funding directly to health centers that offer high-quality, culturally sensitive family planning and other preventive health services to low-income women who do not have access to health care. Ninety- two percent of the approximately 5 million patients that Title X-funded clinics serve each year are women and are disproportionately Black and Hispanic or Latino. Yet between FY 2010-FY 2013, funding for Title X was cut by a total of $39.2 million—a 12.3 percent reduction.

Since women of color are less likely than other women to use contraceptives as noted above, they are at greater risk of unintended pregnancy. For example, the unintended pregnancy rate for Black women—who are more likely than other women to be poor—is almost twice the national rate. The unintended pregnancy rate for Latinas is 75 percent higher than for non-Hispanic women. These higher rates of unintended pregnancy lead to higher abortion rates. Indeed, most abortions in the U.S. are obtained by minority women. With restrictions on abortion in federal and state law proliferating, accessing abortion is becoming increasingly difficult for poor women and women of color. These barriers can also push women later into pregnancy, increasing risks of complications and threats to their health.

Section 1557: Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination in virtually all areas of the health care system on the bases of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability. It marks the first time that federal law contains a broad prohibition on sex discrimination in health programs or activities. Section 1557 also expands protections against other forms of discrimination in health care, including on the bases of race, color, and national origin prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Adopted in 2010, it represents a powerful tool for addressing the intersections of race- and sex-based discrimination that women and LGBT people of color face in the health care arena.

Barriers to Health Care for Immigrant Women: Affordable health care is out of reach for many immigrants in the U.S. because federal law restricts immigrants’ eligibility for health insurance coverage and access to health care. Legislation recently introduced in Congress, the Health Equity and Access under Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act, would improve access to health coverage for immigrant women and their families. HEAL would allow lawfully present immigrants access to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by eliminating the current five-year bar on enrollment and the restrictive list of “qualified” immigrants. In addition, it would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to participate in health care coverage through the ACA, with access to Medicaid or CHIP.

Violence Against Women

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in five women face rape in their lifetime. Studies show that sexual violence is dramatically underreported. Though the FBI has recently updated the definition of rape, more explicit definitions and enhanced data collection on domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking are still needed and would likely document higher numbers in violence against women statistics. In 2009, over 10,660 women filed sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Office and the state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies around the country.

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college—often by someone she knows. Sexual assaults against women in the workplace and on college campuses too often go unreported because women are embarrassed or fear repercussions or retaliation.

CDC research also documents that women of color experience intimate partner violence—which includes physical violence, stalking and rape—at incredibly high rates over their lifetime. Fifty-four percent of women who identify as biracial, 46 percent of Alaska Native and Native American women, 44 percent of Black women, 37 percent of Latinas, 24 percent of immigrant women, and 20 percent of Asian/ Pacific Islander women experience such violence during their lifetimes. The lifetime rate for White women is 35 percent. Although the CDC’s data on lesbians and bisexual women does not provide a racial breakdown, lifetime rates of physical violence, stalking, and rape are 43 percent for lesbians, 61 percent for women who identify as bisexual, as compared to 35 percent for women who identify as heterosexual. Moreover, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, “Transgender women of color were particularly vulnerable to sexual assault in jail/prison. Thirty-eight percent of Black trans women, 30 percent of Native trans women, 25 percent of trans Latinas, 24 percent of multiracial trans women compared with 12 percent of White trans women respondents reported being sexually assaulted by either another inmate or a staff member in jail/prison.”

The Obama administration appointed the first White House Advisor on Violence Against Women to coordinate the violence against women-related activities of the federal government. Additionally, the federal government provides a significant amount of funding to states, territories and localities under two key federal laws: the Violence Against Women Act, and Family Violence Prevention Services Act. These laws provide funding for a variety of culturally specific and appropriate services, including the Culturally and Linguistically Specific Services for Victims Program, and the Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program, among others.

In March 2013, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013), historic legislation that clarifies VAWA’s application to include LGBT organizations and explicitly makes LGBT organizations eligible for grant funding to assist those with same sex partners by barring states from discriminating against entities that serve LGBT people. VAWA 2013 also restores the inherent sovereignty of Indian nations to exercise concurrent criminal jurisdiction over certain non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence and dating violence against Native women on Indian lands or who violate protection orders.

For decades, U.S. law prohibited tribal governments from prosecuting non-Native offenders who commit an estimated 88 percent of all violent crimes against Native women. This left Indian and Alaska Native nations and tribes as the only governments in the United States without legal authority to protect their own citizens from violence perpetrated by any person. These restrictions, coupled with a lack of serious enforcement by federal and state officials having jurisdiction to do so, perpetuate a cycle of extreme rates of violence against Indian and Alaska Native women. Despite the progress made with the adoption of the most recent VAWA reauthorization, significant legal gaps continue because tribes may not prosecute non-Indian abusers until March 2015, unless approved to participate in a special pilot project. Even then, stringent requirements, coupled with lack of funding, may delay or even deter exercise of such jurisdiction by some tribes.

Because the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction of tribes is limited under VAWA 2013 and turns on the status of the Indian lands where the crime is committed, it only applies to one of the 229 federally recognized tribes located in Alaska. Yet, Alaska Native women suffer some of the highest rates of assault in the U.S. Further, under VAWA 2013, tribes may not exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians that commit domestic and sexual assaults against Native women on tribal lands unless the non-Indian has significant ties to the tribe.

On June 20, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) proposed changes to improve the response of campus officials to hate crimes and sexual assaults. The Clery Act of 1990 mandates that colleges and universities report a wide array of crime statistics, including hate crimes.  VAWA 2013 required DOE to propose expanded hate crime data collection categories and provide guidance for colleges and universities to be more transparent in their policies, procedures, and notification of the campus community about crime prevention and awareness programs. These proposed regulations should spark improvements in programs to promote awareness and prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking at colleges and universities.

Importantly, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (HCPA) provides new federal investigative and enforcement tools to address gender-based and gender identity-based hate crimes. Over the past five years, DOJ and the FBI have engaged in a series of training sessions on the HCPA across the country. The HCPA also requires the FBI to include gender-based and gender identity-based hate crimes as part of their annual Hate Crime Statistics Act report, the nation’s most comprehensive hate crime data collection program.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) should increase investigative efforts to ensure that current minimum wage laws are enforced, with a focus on workers in tipped occupations and immigrant workers; finalize regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on compensation; and issue specific guidance for employers, clarifying the legal obligations of employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with medical limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions to the same extent that they accommodate employees with a similar inability to work.

The Obama administration should also move swiftly to update the categorization of exempt and non-exempt workers, and should issue new requirements for federal contractors which reward those who offer paid sick days, predictable and advanced notice of schedules and other family- sustaining workplace practices that help working people to better manage their work and family responsibilities.

The Obama administration should support, and Congress should pass, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require employers to demonstrate that wage differences between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from factors other than sex and also prohibits retaliation against all workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages; the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, to establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program that would provide wage replacement to all workers when serious family and medical needs arise; the Healthy Families Act, to establish a national paid sick days standard so that workers are not forced to risk their jobs or lose income when they or their family members are ill; and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees who have limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Equal Access to Educational Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) should conduct compliance reviews of school disciplinary practices that involve the intersection of race and gender discrimination, implicating both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

DOE should require schools and districts to collect and report more enhanced discipline data, including reasons for suspension and number of instruction days lost, disaggregated by race/ ethnicity, gender, English Language Learner status, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability status, and reported in a way that enables cross-section analysis (e.g. by race and gender together), which will illuminate barriers and help target interventions.

Find more recommendations at http://www.civilrights.org •

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