By Jazelle Hunt
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the stubborn persistence of racial disparities in health, there is cause for Black women to celebrate.
“Overall, our life expectancy continues to rise, while teenaged pregnancy rates have dropped dramatically. And most recently, the rate of HIV infection among Black women has fallen tremendously, down over 20 percent in just two years’ time,” says a new report, “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges,” presented by the Black Women’s Roundtable, a division of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
But not all of the news about Black women is good.
Their homicide rate is more than triple that of White women. Black women are twice as likely as White women to be the victims of violent crime, robbery, and aggravated assault. And Black women are also significantly more likely to be a victim of stranger rape than White women.
The report, issued in the waning days of Women’s History Month, takes a comprehensive inventory of the Black women in America. The 86-page report features white papers on a range of topics, including such as the economy, violence and the justice system, and retirement.
In a section on health, the authors compile all the stark realities of Black womanhood in one place. For example, one in four Black women over 55 years old is diabetic, while four in five are overweight or obese. African American women living in the 12 southeastern states with the highest incidents of stroke are the group most likely to have high blood pressure.
Further, childbirth remains a particularly dark spot for African American women; the maternal mortality rate is three times higher than that of White women, and a baby born to a Black woman is 2.3 times more likely to die than one born to a White woman.
The section on education paints the picture of dogged determination against racial and gender disadvantages.
Among young African American women, the dropout rate is on a decline and high school graduation rates have tripled in 60 years. In the 2009-2010 school year, Black women earned 66 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black Americans, 71 percent of master’s degrees, and 65 percent of doctorates.
Black women also comprised the majority of the Black demographic across law, medical, and dental schools. And despite being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math careers, they are closer to their male counterparts in degree attainment and even outpace Black men at the doctoral level.
The major educational challenges lie in childhood, where African American girls have an out-of-school suspension rate six times as high as their White counterparts, starting as early as pre-K. Black children are three times as likely as others to attend a school in which less than 60 percent of teachers are fully licensed and certified, and go on to a high school that doesn’t offer a range of college prep courses.
“All told…Black women continue to demonstrate a strong and consistent commitment to self-empowerment through the pursuit and successful acquisition of education,” the authors write. “Yet, the educational journey of Black women has not been one of universal success.”
The report paints a similar picture of Black women’s economic standing.
According to the report, Black women have the highest labor force participation rates among all women, and are starting their own businesses at six times the national average rate. They are only second to Black men in labor unionization rates (comprising 12.3 and 14.8 percent of all unionized workers, respectively) – and those who are unionized enjoy higher wages and better benefits compared to all non-union women.
But hard work doesn’t pay off as much for African American women.
The report states that Black women earn 90 percent of what Black men earn, and just 68 cents per dollar earned by White men. It cites another study that found that half of all single, African American women had no, or negative wealth. Black women are also more likely than any other group to be working poor (16 percent of Black women, compared to 11 percent of Black men and 5 percent of White women.).
These gaps translate to the retirement crisis affecting most Americans, but particularly African Americans.
“Sharply stated, Black America suffers a severe retirement gap, and Black women bear the brunt of that circumstance,” the report states. “In fact, as retirees, Black women experience a poverty rate that is over five times that experienced by white men (16 percent versus 3 percent).”
More than one section of the report was devoted to the power of the Black female vote.
Despite being just 12 percent of the electorate, African American women can be political game-changers when they vote en mass. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, 68.1 percent of voting-age Black women reported voting compared to 67.9 percent of White women, 51.8 percent of Hispanic women, and 47.5 percent of Asian women, according to Census data.
They flexed their electoral muscles again in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race. Despite being just 11 percent of all Virginia voters (who are 72 percent White), their support was enough to put Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, in office by a narrow 2.5 percent margin. It was also enough to break a 32-year trend in which the party of the current sitting president usually loses the Virginia gubernatorial race.
Black Women’s Roundtable plans to begin expanding its Power of the Sister Vote initiative, which aims to mobilize Black women across the country as a steady and influential voting bloc.
The report is the first in what is expected to be an annual series of reports on Black women.
“In these pages are the triumphs and tragedies surrounding Black Women’s lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry,” writes Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “And though, we find that on many accounts, significant progress has been made since key historical markers such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, and the onset of the War on Poverty, there are many areas that remain in need of dire national attention and urgent action.”