Photo credit: Health Resources in Action
Early evidence suggests that Black workers hold jobs that are less likely to offer paid holiday benefits for Juneteenth – “Black Independence Day” – compared to the rest of the workforce. While paid holiday benefits are guaranteed for all federal and postal workers, the other 98.4% of the workforce does not benefit equally from the Juneteenth holiday. State governments and private employers have varying levels of recognizing the holiday, and Black workers in private companies are less likely to hold jobs with paid holiday leave benefits.
This is significant because it reveals how our economic system continues to disproportionately serve the interests of white Americans. Our analysis finds that Juneteenth offers more paid benefits to white workers than Black workers. This data reveals larger trends that call us to do significantly more than offer a day off for Juneteenth, but use this time to advocate for systemic changes to recognize the debt owed to Black workers and the Black community at large.
Catch me up… What’s Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, the June 19th holiday celebrating the emancipation of all enslaved African Americans in the United States, is the longest running African American holiday. The date marks the arrival of the U.S. troops in Galveston, Texas to free the last enslaved people nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The day was commemorated in a celebration known as “Black Independence Day,” or June Nineteenth — Juneteenth for short.
Why is Juneteenth a Holiday?
In 2021, President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday. In his official proclamation, the president observed, “Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.” With this recognition, Juneteenth guaranteed an additional paid holiday for federal employees, post office workers, and many bank workers.
The postal service, federal government, and banks all closed for the holiday. At first blush, it looks like Black workers may have the most to benefit from the holiday, with outsized shares of workers across postal service, federal employees, and banks. For example, Black workers make up 12% of the overall workforce, but are 29% of postal service workers, 18% of federal employees, and 13% of bank workers. A paid holiday is guaranteed for federal employees and postal service workers (some 2.6 million workers who make up 1.6% of the overall workforce).
But, the same is not true for bank workers, who do not have the guarantee of a paid day off. Let’s use the example of banks to take a closer look at the private and non-federal sector workers – representing 98.4% of all workers – who might benefit most from the holiday.
When Holidays aren’t Equal
Even though banks were closed across the country, holiday pay is not guaranteed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Banks, like all private employers, do not have to offer their employees the same benefits package across the board, and typically differentiate holiday benefits by salaried and hourly workers. This means that hourly employees, like bank tellers, may see a smaller paycheck for not working on Juneteenth, whereas salaried employees, like financial managers, will have picked up an extra paid holiday.
The difference between bank tellers and financial managers is part of a broader trend across private employers at large. Salaried and full-time employees are much more likely to have paid holidays than their part-time or hourly counterparts, with higher paid workers more likely than lower paid workers to have paid leave benefits. Within banking occupations, Black workers are concentrated in lower-paying occupations, which are less likely to come with paid leave benefits.
The same trend is true for a handful of companies that publicly recognize Juneteenth. CNN reports that, “Although corporate headquarters of companies like Apple, Twitter, Target, Lyft, and Zillow will be closed Monday, the retail stores and services will be operating under normal hours.” For these large employers, retail and service workers continued to work through the Juneteenth holiday, while management took the day off. It’s worth noting that Black workers make up 8.6% of management occupations, but are 13% of retail salespersons, 17% of cashiers, and fill 17% of service occupations.
Finally, some good news…
Adoption of new holidays is a slow process, but many states have adopted Juneteenth as an official holiday in the past three years. A recent New York Time article compares Juneteenth to the adoption of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, which was years in the making: “President Ronald Reagan signed Dr. King’s birthday into federal law in 1983, but by 1990, Montana, New Hampshire, and Arizona still had not made the day a legal holiday.” Juneteenth is following a similar trajectory, with nearly half of all states recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday. The number of states that have adopted Juneteenth as an official holiday jumped from 3 in 2020 to 24 in 2022.
Private employers are also stepping up. A recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plan shows that as many as 30 percent of private employers offer a paid holiday for Juneteenth, joining Fourth Economy in this commitment. By comparison, in 2020, only 8 percent of private employers offered it as a paid holiday, with 17 percent considering adding it to their paid holiday calendars.
As states and private institutions adopt the holiday, here are some resources that may help with the transition:
Four Enduring Myths About Juneteenth That Are Not Based in Fact - facts about the holiday and its significance
Observing Juneteenth in an Impactful Way - suggestions on ways to mindfully incorporate Juneteenth into your workplace
Federal Holidays and How They Are Paid - to better understand employee entitlements for federal holidays