This blog was co-authored by Jonathan Malagon and Lola Vinson.
Most Texans, no matter our race, income, or gender, have dreams for a world of fairness, joy, love, and a future where our families and communities are thriving. Texan women, however, experience deep and pervasive disparities in almost every measure of health and well-being when compared to their male counterparts, in addition to powerful state leaders exploiting, regulating, and legislating their bodies.
Integrating the necessary critical analysis of how gender disparities are exacerbated by race in our state makes it impossible to ignore the damaging economic and social inequities women of color experience. Today, more than half of all Texan women and girls are Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinas — and the state’s future prosperity depends on their success and well-being. All Texans suffer when we do not address the compounding and intersecting racial and gender disparities that persist in our state.
Intersectionality is an approach largely advanced by Black women, demonstrating that classifications such as gender, race, class, and others cannot be examined in isolation from one another; they interact and intersect in individuals’ lives, in society, in social systems, and are mutually constitutive. Kimberlè Crenshaw, a civil rights and Black feminist scholar, reminds us that if we don’t take an intersectional lens in solving some of our society’s most pressing issues, the most marginalized members are going to fall through the cracks. Women of color concurrently experience both racism and patriarchy, which requires us to prioritize policy and system changes that simultaneously dismantle these oppressive systems.
Among the most alarming systemic inequities plaguing women (and infants) of color are maternal and child health outcomes. Black mothers are far more likely to experience adverse birth outcomes compared to women of other racial and ethnic identities. They have the highest preterm birth rates, are more likely to give birth to babies with low birth weight, and are twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and sepsis. Black women in Texas are twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Latinas, to die from pregnancy and childbirth. Devastating racial disparities in maternal and infant health, which are symptoms of broader underlying inequities rooted in racism and discrimination, persist across education and income levels despite continued advancements in medical care. Dangerous post-Roe barriers to abortion will most certainly exacerbate these racial inequities.
Unsurprisingly, access to health insurance for Texas women also varies greatly by race — 26% of Latinas and 14% of Black women are uninsured, compared to only 10% of white women. Poverty aggravates racial and gender health inequities, as falling incomes reduce access to basic material resources needed to ensure good health. Latinas are the largest group of women of color in Texas and have the highest poverty rate of women at 21%. Black women follow closely at 20%. Latinas and Black women are over two times more likely to experience poverty than white women in Texas (9%) and approximately three times more likely than white men and boys (7%).
Paying all working women equitably to men in Texas would reduce the poverty rate by 54.7%, reflecting one of the highest reductions in state poverty in the country. Eliminating pay inequity for all Texan women would grow Texas’ economy by $39.5 billion, larger than Vermont’s entire economic output ($29.6 billion).
In an equitable economy, all workers would earn a living wage without systematic differences by race and gender. However, women continue to be paid less than men regardless of education level. In Texas, for every dollar a man makes, a woman in Texas makes 87 cents. Black women in Texas typically make 58 cents for every dollar paid to white men; for Latinas, this number drops further to 44 cents. Although educational attainment is often seen as an equalizer, the disparities in median earnings between women and men increase among college graduates. Racial and gender disparities in wages in Texas are higher than the national average across levels of education.
Even when women — especially women of color — work hard, have higher educational attainment, and get good jobs, there are still vast differences in pay and the ability to build long-term economic security and healthy lives for themselves and their families. Hard work and advanced education are not a cure-all for the societal and structural barriers that women of color face, such as the implicit biases that contribute to gender pay inequity and access to high-quality and culturally responsive medical care.
In addition to inequitable health and economic opportunities, women of color in Texas experience stark disparities in political representation. Inclusive political institutions give space and weight to the voices and needs of people whose lives are most deeply affected by inequities. Academic research shows that increasing women’s political representation has a positive impact on the health outcomes of all children, and that gender equity in politics is not only generally beneficial for women but also improves men’s health. Even though women make up half of Texas’ population and vote in higher numbers than their male counterparts, we can count on two hands the number of Black women who are Texas legislators. Furthermore, as of 2023, there have only been a total of four Black women sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives to represent our state’s diverse congressional districts. Texas has not yet had a Black woman as governor nor U.S. senator, and Ivy Taylor, mayor of San Antonio from 2014-2017, was the first — and so far, only — Black woman to serve as a mayor in Texas. Political representation of Latinas is not much better. While approximately 40% of Texans are Latino/a/e, there are only 16 Latinas in our state legislature and three representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
State leaders can improve outcomes for all Texans, across race, place, and background by prioritizing the conditions and well-being of Black and Latina women. These five immediate actions will help dismantle barriers disproportionately harming women of color:
- Expand Medicaid for adults with low incomes and extend coverage for new mothers for a full year postpartum.
- Streamline enrollment to end harmful delays in health and food benefits and prevent gaps in health coverage when temporary COVID-19 pandemic eligibility rules end.
- Eliminate civil and criminal penalties for abortion and other types of reproductive health care.
- Allow local governments to set their own minimum wage requirements and require paid parental, medical, family, and sick leave.
- Eliminate financial and legal hardships for kinship caregivers.
Black History Month should have reminded us to give gratitude to Black leaders and communities for charting the course of a nation that serves us all and creating a promising future for a truly multiracial democracy. Women’s History Month offers another opportunity to deliver on this vision of racial, gender, and economic justice by centering the voices of women of color in developing solutions to our society’s most consequential social and economic issues.
The foundation of our modern struggles for equal rights was borne out of Black freedom struggles — largely led by Black women — which guaranteed equality under the law and banned discrimination based on race, gender, nationality, and religion, and provided other historically excluded groups the legal recourse to demand their rights. Similarly, Latinas in Texas have played a critical role in supporting women’s suffrage and civil rights, advancing economic and racial justice, and improving workers’ rights and access to education. Trailblazing Tejanas such as Jovita Idár, Emma Tenayuca, and Irma Rangel fought against social injustice and discrimination to improve outcomes and opportunities for Mexican-Americans and other marginalized communities.
Building power for Black women and Latinas uplifts all people. We must continue to elevate and heed their leadership and take the issues that disproportionately impact women of color seriously. When Texans join together to address racial and gender inequities and dismantle barriers for women of color, we can truly make Texas a state that values shared prosperity for all.
Note: This blog is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Data collection efforts across many survey instruments have yet to fully address the need to include the diverse identities of Texans. Therefore, the demographic breakdown provided in the brief primarily reflects binary, cisgender sex-disaggregation of data. We acknowledge that such binary focus excludes important information about transgender and gender nonconforming populations. The categories of race and ethnicity used also do not adequately reflect the multiracial and multiethnic population of Texas. The way that many primary sources conduct data collection must evolve to be more inclusive and representative of the geographic, social, and cultural dimensions that define the concepts.