By Jocelyn Frye and Michele L. Jawando
In 2016, pundits and political strategists expected black women to continue their historical trends by voting in large numbers.
To the surprise of these experts, turnout among black women fell from more than 70 percent to 64 percent. Although black women still outperformed almost all other voters, with their turnout percentage slightly behind the turnout of white women, the decline was dramatic and—in some instances—pivotal.
Black women comprise 7 percent of the U.S. population, yet just 5 percent of federal judges, 4 percent of mayors in the nation’s 100 largest cities, and 3 percent of members of Congress and state legislators.
Black women are a powerful force in the American political system. In 2008 and 2012, they turned out to vote at higher rates than any other demographic group, playing a decisive role ushering in new candidates across the country. Black women’s civic participation embodies the stated ideals of the nation’s participatory democracy: They consistently recognize and value the importance of being politically active and engaged in order to effect change in their communities. At the same time, the civic engagement of black women too often does not result in concrete policy changes that are responsive to their needs. While black women are always expected to turn out and provide support, the public narrative about women—and more importantly about what women need—frequently focuses on white women, typically those with economic resources.
Black women continue to face an appalling and exploitive wage gap that perpetuates poverty and stifles economic mobility. On average, they earn 34 percent less than white men with the same education, experience, marital status, and region of residence.
One study found that when women enter traditionally male-dominated fields, the average pay for those occupations declines, even after controlling for education, work experience, and geography. Furthermore, black women suffer from a range of health disparities, including high rates of asthma, fibroids, and breast and cervical cancer mortality. Despite these systemic and often intergenerational challenges, black women continue to demonstrate a greater trust in government and belief in its potential to serve as a catalyst for upward mobility than other demographic groups.
A key takeaway from the election results is that lawmakers seeking the support of black women cannot afford to take them for granted. Lawmakers must be proactive and intentional to understand and address the challenges that black women face, including the barriers and biases that limit their opportunities and the disparities they experience in local communities. Policymakers must develop constructive solutions to address such concerns, in order to improve the status of black women and advance policies that promote stability, opportunity, and prosperity across the nation.
Read more at American Progress.