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."
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
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
"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
For all working-age black women 18 to 64, the financial picture is
bleak. Their median household wealth is only $100. Hispanic women in
that age group have a median wealth of $120.
"That means half of [black women] have a net worth of more than $100
and half have a net worth of less than $100," Ms. Lui said. "So that
gives you an idea of how far in debt some women of color are."
Married or cohabitating white women have a median wealth of
$167,500. Married or cohabitating black women have a median net worth
The reasons behind the daunting financial challenges black women face are numerous and complex.
"There are excuses and circumstances that have evolved in society,
which put black women where they are," said Esther Bush, executive
director of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, who said in
Pittsburgh more than 70 percent of African-American families are headed
by single women.