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Negative representations of black womanhood have reinforced these discriminatory practices and policies.
Since the era of slavery, the dominant view of black women has been that they should be workers, a view that contributed to their devaluation as mothers with caregiving needs at home. Compared with other women in the United States, black women have always had the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age, marital status, or presence of children at home. In The s was also the era when large s of married white women began to enter into the labor force and this led to a marketization of services ly performed within the household, including care and food services.
Black women continue to be overrepresented in service jobs. Nearly a third 28 percent of black women are employed in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women.
This has been most evident with protective welfare policies that enabled poor lone white mothers to stay at home and provide care for their children since the early 20th century. Up until the s, caseworkers excluded most poor black women from receiving cash assistance because they expected black women to be employed moms and not stay-at-home moms like white women.
This exclusion meant that for most of the history of welfare, the state actively undermined the well-being of black families by ensuring that black women would be in the labor force as low-wage caregivers for white families. This helped to secure the well-being of white families and alleviated white women of having to do this work.
The state simultaneously undermined the well-being of black families by denying black mothers the cash assistance that they needed to support their children and leaving black women with no other option but to work for very low wages. Indeed, the backlash against poor black moms receiving cash assistance eventually culminated in the dismantling of the AFDC program and the enactment of TANF—a program with strict work requirements.
Because of discriminatory employer and government policies against black men and women, black mothers with school-age children have always been more likely to be in the labor force compared with other moms. Today, 78 percent of black moms with children are employed compared with an average of just 66 percent of white, Asian American, and Latinx moms.
New Deal minimum wage, overtime pay, and collective bargaining legislation excluded the main sectors where black women worked—domestic service and farming. Although there have been inclusions since then, these sectors still lack full access to worker protections. Over a third 36 percent of black women workers lack paid sick leave. All workers—especially the most vulnerable—need workplace protections, including minimum wages that are livable wages. Universally available family-friendly workplace policies would be especially beneficial to women given their care responsibilities: paid sick and parental leave, subsidized child and elder care, and flexible work options.
Boston: South End Press, Working Economics Blog. Posted February 19, at pm by Nina Banks.
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