Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.
In a groundbreaking report released Monday by a leading economic research group, social scientists turned a spotlight on the grave financial challenges facing an often overlooked group of women, many of whom could not take an unpaid sick day or repair a major appliance without going into debt.
“It’s rather shocking,” said Meizhu Lui, director of the Closing the Gap Initiative based in Oakland, Calif., who contributed to the report “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future.”
Racial disparities in net worth
Among the most startling revelations in the wealth data is that while single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.
“Even for those of us who have been looking at the wealth gap for a while, we were shocked and amazed at how little women of color have,” Ms. Lui said.
Researchers at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, based in Oakland, Calif., analyzed data from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, a voluminous report the Federal Reserve Board issues every three years that examines household finances in this country.
Wealth, or net worth, measures the total of one’s assets — cash in the bank, stocks, bonds and real estate; minus debts — home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. The most recent financial data was collected before the economic downturn, so the current numbers likely are worse now than at the time of the study.
Black women, in general, were more likely to have participated in the subprime loan crisis with upper-income black women being five times more likely to have received a high-cost mortgage than upper-income white men.
“The popular image is they spend too much, which is the reason they are running up credit card and consumer debt, but the cost of living has risen faster than income, and they need to go into debt for basic daily necessities,” Ms. Lui said. “It’s compounded because unemployment is twice as high in the black community than it is in the white community.”