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This Cincinnati mom has lived what new Women's Fund data analysis found: 'The economy's not equal'

'We shouldn't have to hustle'
Kendra Davis is at work in this undated photo. She is smiling with her chin resting on her hand.
Kendra Davis smiles with her chin resting on her hand in this undated photo of her at work.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 19:44:54-04

CINCINNATI — Black women across Greater Cincinnati have been working hard and pursuing higher education, but thousands still are straining to get ahead.

That’s according to a recent study by the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and UC Economics Center. Their analysis of U.S. census data found:

· 49% of all working Black women in Greater Cincinnati make less than $15 an hour, compared with 27% of working white women and 24% of all employed women in the region.

· 32% of all Black women with a bachelor’s degree make less than $15 an hour, compared to 13% of white women, 10% of Black men and 11% of white men with the same level of education.

· And 26.2% of Black women have an annual income below the federal poverty rate, compared with 9.4% of white women, 18.8% of Black men and 8.3% of white men.

None of those findings surprised Kendra Davis.

“These are the things we deal with, and these are the struggles that people have,” said Davis, a member of the Women’s Fund Advisory Council formed with the help of the community engagement company Cohear. “And it’s ridiculous that it can be just shoved under the rug or looked at as if this isn’t the case. So I’m really happy to work with the Women’s Fund and know that this research is out there.”

Getting the information out there is exactly the point of the Women’s Fund's ongoing research into Black women’s economic mobility. The fund released its first paper on the topic late last year – a review of the centuries of laws, policies and practices that oppress Black women in the United States and make it more difficult for too many of them to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

RELATED: Paper tells how U.S. ‘was built on the backs of Black women’

Meghan Cummings is the executive director of the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. She has long, strawberry blonde hair and is wearing a turquoise blouse and dark jacket in this portrait.
Meghan Cummings

The data analysis, called “Realizing the Potential of an Equitable Economy: Centering Black Women's Upward Mobility in the Cincinnati Region,” is the second report in the series. The third will consist of in-depth interviews with dozens of Black women about what has helped or hurt their economic mobility, said Meghan Cummings, executive director of the Women’s Fund.

“Our biggest message is that we have to understand that there are disparities – some intentional, some have grown out of history – that are alive and present in our community, and they are holding us all back,” Cummings said. “And we need everyone to play their part to say we are not carrying these disparities forward with us into our next chapter.”

‘The economy’s not equal’

The data analysis took more than a year to complete, said Chris Nicak, co-director of research at the University of Cincinnati’s Alpaugh Family Economics Center. He worked with the Women’s Fund on the analysis, which was based on 2018 census data for the roughly 2.1 million people in the Tri-State.

“The economy’s not equal for everyone,” Nicak said. “It’s just layer after layer of difference.”

The Women’s Fund embarked on the research after being part of a 2020 Jobs Outlook report issued in 2019. In that report, the Women’s Fund asked UC’s Economics Center to examine the intersection of race and gender in the region.

“The very small piece of data that that provided really shocked us, to be quite honest,” said Samantha Molony, applied research director for the Women’s Fund. “Black women were making 36% lower than the median annual earnings than all other workers in the MSA.”

That finding combined with the experiences that members of the Women’s Fund Community Advisory Board set the organization on the path to focus on Black women’s economic mobility, Molony said.

Samantha Molony is applied research director for the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. She has long, brown hair and is wearing a printed blouse and dark jacket in this photo.
Samantha Molony is applied research director for the Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“That really triggered our need to look deeper at all these issues and really pull that apart,” Cummings added. “It’s not just a wage gap. But we’ve talked a lot about occupational segregation and how the jobs that Black women are predominant in pay less.”

Cummings said people often look at results like that and conclude that’s because women choose careers that pay less, but she said that’s not the case.

“Those careers pay less precisely because they are dominated by women and Black women and that work is valued less and differently than other contributions to the economy,” she said. “Black women are making these incredible contributions to our economy, but they are not being compensated in the same way as others that have similar jobs in our economy in different occupational sectors.”

The fact that nearly half of the region’s Black women earn less than $15 an hour means they simply don’t earn enough to support themselves and their families, Cummings said.

“As a community, I think we really need to look at that number and say, 'Is that OK with us?'” she said. “People are working too hard and not able to meet their basic needs. And then, when that group happens to be predominated by Black women, how does that play into all the other disparities we’re seeing in our communities?”

Davis, who now works as a tax examiner technician for the Internal Revenue Service, spent years working those types of jobs.

Kendra Davis smiles in this undated photo taken while she was at work. Her braided hair is wrapped in a bun atop her head, and she's wearing a red shirt.
Kendra Davis in an undated photo taken while working.

‘We shouldn’t have to hustle’

She had a good job at Delta Airlines that she loved for years, but lost it after becoming a single mom and battling postpartum depression. Davis then worked as a gas station cashier. She later took a pay cut for a job at Meijer so she could work a late shift, she said, and be home during the day for her daughter. The Meijer job paid $10.15 per hour, Davis said, which was higher than many of her coworkers made at the time.

“Before I got my job which I currently am in,” she said, “there was a struggle there. Yes, I was able to receive food stamps. Yes, our medical was covered. But I had to really hustle and bustle.”

There were times Davis didn’t have her own car, she said, and relied on the bus to get around with her baby girl. Now that Davis earns about $18 an hour, she said, the only government assistance she still receives is health coverage for her daughter. Everything else – including $180 every two weeks for her own health coverage – comes out of her paycheck.

Kendra Davis and her daughter smile in an undated photo. Both are wearing white, and Davis's daughter is sitting on her lap.
Kendra Davis and her daughter in an undated photo.

“I have times when I have to make those hard budgeting decisions,” she said. “The main thing comes down to food. Every two weeks, I have to come up with a budget to have enough food in my house to last for the next two weeks.”

That means finding every coupon and deal available, she said, and sometimes skimping on nutrition because fresh food is more expensive.

Davis has started college twice and said she still wants to get her degree someday.

But the fact that 32% of Black women with a bachelor’s degree earn less than $15 per hour also shows that education is not “the great equalizer” that everyone has made it out to be, Molony said.

Davis said she knows that, too, because she has friends and loved ones with graduate degrees who don’t earn the salaries they expected.

“At a systems level, how do we ensure that people across our community, especially those who are working full time, are able to meet their basic needs, regardless of their race and gender?” Cummings said. “When we see continued race and gender outcomes that we can predict across occupation sectors, across many different disciplines, that’s not just by chance. That is a system that was created to elevate certain folks and keep certain folks suppressed in our system.”

The COVID-19 crisis has made people more aware of our nation’s economic disparities, Cummings said, and gives our community an opportunity to address them.

“We really have to dig deep on why do these inequities persist,” she said, “And how in coming out of COVID, we create an economy that is working for everyone.”

An economy that did that, Davis said, wouldn’t require some people to work so much harder than others.

“I do love the entrepreneurship and the hustle and the thrive that I’m seeing in the Black community,” she said. “But I also want us to get out there and advocate for the fact that we shouldn’t have to hustle and thrive and gig work and take away from our ability to just actually enjoy life because we are now chasing financial stability.”

Kendra Davis smiles as she takes a photo with her daughter, who also is smiling and holding a baby doll and unicorn toy.
Kendra Davis and her daughter in an undated photo.

A link for the full report, “Realizing the Potential of an Equitable Economy: Centering Black Women’s Upward Mobility in the Cincinnati Region,” online. More information about the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.