It always helps to have research to confirm what you already know about racial inequity in America. But occasionally, even when the news is not new, the findings turn out to be appallingly dire, shocking even to the sensibilities of cynical people who find it hard to be surprised anymore. (That would be this blogger.)
Such is the case with the latest report on women of color and the racial wealth gap from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, released yesterday, on International Women’s Day.
Take a look at a few choice findings from “Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future”:
-Single Black women (across all ages, from age 18 to 64) have a median wealth of $100 and single Latinas have a median wealth of $120. Single white women clock in at $41,000.
-Almost half of all Black women and Latinas have zero wealth or negative wealth. That is, their debts exceed their assets.
-Young women (aged 18 to 35) of all races have a median wealth of zero.
-And even though white women (from 36 to 49 years old) have a median wealth of $42,600, women of color in the same age bracket have a median wealth valued at $5.
-Women of color 65 and older are least likely to receive retirement income from pensions or other assets.
When it comes to every kind of financial asset that people can call their own—cash, bank accounts to actually hold their cash in, homes, stocks, bonds and businesses—women of color have less. Across the board, for every kind of financial asset, at every age and no matter whether they’re single, married or divorced. Women of color have less than their white female counterparts. Less than their Black and Latino male counterparts, who still retain more wealth than white females. But each of these groups’ wealth is trumped by the wealth that white men at every age bracket own.
And this is where, I know, we all start saying: what else is new?
But the findings are an important avenue for understanding exactly how financial inequality becomes institutionalized and entrenched. Insight Center folks take a particular interest in wealth—defined as net worth, “the total value of one’s assets minus debts”—as an indicator of financial stability in communities because wealth (and the racial disparities that accompany it) are transferred from one generation to the next.
And it’s their savings and assets that people turn to when they’ve lost their jobs, when their kids get sick, when the car needs repairing, when bills need to get paid. Wealth is a measure of how well we can sustain ourselves through the lean times, or whether or not communities are able to sustain themselves at all.
The racial and gender wealth gap is persistent and severe for women of color. We need new policy to deal with the burden of institutionalized inequity. I like Insight’s suggestions, which include:
-Better data collection that is disaggregated by race, gender and ethnicity. Most data available for Asian Americans obscures the complexity of the Asian American experience, and even less information is available about Native Americans and Middle Easterners.
-Support for the Employee Free Choice Act
-Eliminate asset limit clauses that bar people from being eligible for public assistance, or else public assistance will only keep people of color, and especially women of color, from achieving financial security.
-Institute minimum benefits for Social Security.