PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday August 23rd, 2016, 5:33pm

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Congressional Colleagues To Host Symposium On Black Women, Girls

Progress Illinois talked with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly about the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls' upcoming symposium in Chicago. The congresswoman also weighed in on African-American Women's Equal Pay Day and Donald Trump's recent attempt to woo black voters. 

The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, co-chaired by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2), will convene in Chicago for a symposium on "Defining the Black Female Experience."
 
Kelly and two of her caucus colleagues, U.S. Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-NY,9) and Gwen Moore (D-WI,4), will host the Friday event at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 1452 E. 53rd St. The event, which is free and open to the public, starts at 8:30 a.m.
 
Kelly co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls with Clarke and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ,12). The caucus, which formally launched in April with a kick-off symposium, is the first federal caucus "devoted to public policy that eliminates the significant barriers and disparities experienced by black women."
 
This week's event in Chicago is part of the caucus' cross-country listening tour, created as a means to hear from women of color on issues involving health, safety, economic opportunity and social justice, among other topics.
 
The goal, Kelly said, is to get "feedback from African-American women across the age span and to see what we can do as far as legislation, policy [and] funding to lift all boats of black women."
 
Kelly said the caucus plans to bring its listening tour to New Jersey, New York and other communities in the coming months.
 
"We are going to take it to other members' districts, and we're also going to take it to districts where there's not a black congressperson representing the district, because we don't want to shut [out] those African Americans."
 
The caucus intends to write a report based on the findings from the listening tour, which will run for nine to 12 months, Kelly said. The report will serve as a jumping off point for specific policy proposals.
 
Kelly and her fellow caucus members formed the group as a response to the #SheWoke Committee, a collective of seven black women activists, including Sandra Bland's sister, who petitioned national leaders to "create a space that prioritizes black women and girls."
 
The Chicago symposium is timely since Tuesday marks African-American Women's Equal Pay Day. The day symbolizes how far into 2016 -- nearly eight months -- black women must work in order to earn what men made in 2015.
 
Women overall earn 79 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. For black women, the gap widens to 63 cents, which translates into $21,937 in lost annual earnings. The wage gap costs black women more than $877,000 over the course of a 40-year career.
 
"It's still amazing in 2016 that women first of all, but then especially women of color and especially black women, that we're still not equal," Kelly said. "In 2016, it's ridiculous, frankly, that we can't get equal pay for equal work, and we're still not valued like we should be ... As far as the Caucus on Black Women and Girls, we definitely want to see (equal pay) happen."
 
The Institute for Women's Policy Research released a new report on wages in advance of African-American Women's Equal Pay Day. The research showed that black women saw their real median annual earnings decline 5 percent, or more than three times as much as all women's earnings, over the decade from 2004 to 2014.
 
During that 10-year period, earnings declined 1.6 percent for women overall, 5.8 percent for American Indian women, 4.5 percent for Hispanic women and .3 percent for white women. Asian/Pacific Islander women saw their wages increase 1.2 percent.
 
In Illinois, real median annual earnings declined 7.7 percent for black women from 2004 to 2014, according to the report. Black women had the largest earnings growth, 8.5 percent, in West Virginia and the biggest earnings decline, 13 percent, in Ohio.
 
"This analysis underscores the strong impact of the Great Recession and the painfully slow economic recovery that many black women have been experiencing," IWPR President Heidi Hartmann said in a statement. "The areas of the country where black women saw marked wage improvement had relatively low earnings to begin with. For black women, the economy's recovery is still not complete."
 
Kelly commented on the findings.
 
"I would agree ... that even though there has been [an economic] recovery, that it has not touched everyone," she said. "But also, before the recession started, we still weren't making what other people were making. So I'm not surprised that it's taken longer to reach our population."
 
Black Women-Focused Symposium Comes As Election Season Ramps Up
 
The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls is embarking on its listening tour as the general election season kicks into high gear and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump tries to court black voters.
 
Kelly called Trump's outreach effort to the African-American community over the past week a "sorry attempt" at making inroads with black voters.
 
"I don't know how sincere he really is," she said, "or is he just looking at his poll numbers, and maybe that's why he's reaching out."
 
Polls show Trump with little support among black voters and registering as low as zero percent in some states.
 
A national NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Tuesday showed Trump receiving 8 percent of black voters' support to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 87 percent.
 
Trump began his recent outreach effort to black Americans last Tuesday at a nearly all-white campaign rally in West Bend, Wisconsin. West Bend is a predominately white community about 40 miles outside Milwaukee, where unrest erupted after the August 13 fatal police shooting of a 23-year-old armed black man.
 
"I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future," Trump told the crowd. "To every voter in Milwaukee, to every voter living in the inner city or every forgotten stretch of our society, I'm running to offer you a much better future, a much better job."
 
Trump -- who has declined recent invitations to speak to the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists -- claimed during his West Bend speech that Democratic policies have failed black Americans.
 
"The Democratic Party has failed and betrayed the African-American community," the Republican nominee said. "Democratic crime policies, education policies and economic policies have produced only more crime, more broken homes and more poverty."
 
On Friday, at a campaign rally in the largely white community of Dimondale, Michigan, Trump pitched his candidacy to black voters by asking, "What the hell do you have to lose?"
 
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP's Detroit branch, pushed back on Trump after the candidate's appearance in Dimondale.
 
"Lest we forget this same Donald Trump, who would have us to believe that he is seriously concerned about doing something for the African-American voter, is the same Trump who led the way for the Birther Movement against President Barack Obama, questioning his legitimacy as a U.S. citizen," Anthony noted in a statement.
 
At the Dimondale rally, Trump predicted he would secure 95 percent of the black vote in 2020, if he were to run again that year.
 
Kelly laughed out loud at Trump's prediction.
 
"That's ridiculous to think he could get (95 percent) when he's not even at 10 percent," she said.
 
Trump's own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also chuckled at Trump's assertion when he was asked about it Monday on Fox News.
 
"Why are you laughing?" the Fox News host asked.
 
"Well, that's Donald Trump," Pence replied.

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