Black women in the US workforce are more represented in the healthcare industry than any other racial group. However, according to a study published in Health Affairs, they are disproportionately concentrated in some of the most dangerous and lowest paying jobs.
Despite all efforts by leading hospitals, healthcare companies, and even the government to reduce workplace inequality, the long-term effects of racism on the composition of the healthcare workforce, as well as the resulting gendered and racialized divisions of care, are more difficult to quantify and address. Unfortunately, this remains the case, even though it is widely acknowledged that women of color, particularly Black women and Indigenous women, hold the majority of low-wage jobs.
The study, authored by Janette Dill, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Mignon Duffy, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, used data from the American Community Survey to explore the effect of racism on a macro level.
The authors found that Black women comprise 6.9% of the US labor force but 13.7% of the healthcare workforce. Furthermore, the study revealed that Black women are unevenly distributed among different healthcare settings compared to White women. According to the study, Black women are heavily concentrated in long-term care, making up 23% of the long-term care workforce compared with 12% of hospitals and 9.6% of ambulatory care workers.
In stark contrast, White women are more uniformly dispersed across health care settings, accounting for almost 41% of the long-term care workforce, 47% of hospital workers, and about 49% of ambulatory care workers.
The researchers also found that Black women were overrepresented at lower levels, making up almost 25% of all licensed practical nurses and health aides. However, only 10.2% were registered nurses, and 8.1% were therapists.
Compared with Black women, White women are more heavily concentrated among registered nurses (61%) and therapists (56%). They are slightly underrepresented among licensed practical nurses and aides (40%) concerning their overall representation among healthcare jobs.
“Although the health care industry includes a wide range of jobs, the parts of the sector in which Black women are concentrated are characterized by low wages, lack of benefits, and hazardous working conditions,” the researchers said.