Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Black Woman's Worth

On Tuesday I wrote about this study which shows that single black women in the US have median wealth of only $100. The impact of that situation is so great that I can't cover it all in one post, so I'm taking this opportunity to convene a conversation around African-American women and wealth.

Over the next few weeks, I'll post more about the report's findings and try to put it in context: how's it affect black families, the ability of young, single black people to couple and marry, why does it seem to contradict with data that shows that for the last three decades, black women have had greater income, educational and professional gains (the study shows that despite all that, single black men have a median wealth of $7,900, compared with the $100 median figure for single black women).

First I'm posting my interview with Meizhu Lui, the director of the Closing the Wealth Gap Initiative at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, which did the report.

Liu pointed to discriminatory financial practices of the US government still working against the efforts of black women and men today to build wealth. In particular, she said, white Americans benefited from the G.I. Bill and the lending practices of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which helped them get college degrees and buy homes after World War II. Education and housing are two of the largest factors in building wealth.

"It isn’t that (black) people didn’t want to get out and work, it’s that they were barred from many of these things," Lui said.

Of more than $2 billion in housing loans the FHA backed between the 1930s and the early 1960s, she said, about 96 percent went to whites.

"For whites, they were given those incomes and assets a long time ago," she said. "The historical legacy of the past is still very much with us today. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it should have been done for everybody.”

But it wasn't, and today black women more than any other group, are suffering because of it. Today, Single black women have less than 1 percent of the median net worth of black men, who themselves trail both white and Hispanic men.

Still, Lui says black men and women should resist viewing the wealth gap as divisive and remember that the same external forces hurt us both economically.
Even for married families, the median wealth for black people is only 16 cents for every dollar of wealth whites have, and wealth for single black males is one fifth that for single white males.

“It’s not the fault of the men, either. If you look at those structural barriers to employment for men as well, we have to do things for both," Lui said.

"If we really want to lift up the women, we need to lift up the whole community. The people who make the rules in our society are mostly white men. The rules are still being made by white men of means and they’re being made to benefit that group."

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