Why so many black women in poverty?

Because help is lacking and obstacles are abundant in the climb out of our financial black holes

Topics: Race, Broadsheet, U.S. Economy, Love and Sex,

Why so many black women in poverty? (Credit: Unknown)

A shocking statistic sent ripples across the Internet earlier this month. It made the rounds on Twitter and even nabbed a couple of headlines before fading into silence: Black women have a median net worth of $5.

This one tiny fact, pulled from a lengthy paper by the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development, was given far more attention than the core of the report: a discussion of the perfect storm of gender and racial discrimination, mommy tracking, wealth and inheritance that puts young women of color on fiscal bumper cars before they even turn 18. Reading through “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future” felt like flipping through the pages of my own life and the lives of the women around me; it paints a familiar picture of how hard it is to exit poverty and build a financially stable existence.

When I left home at 17, I moved out with two garbage bags full of possessions, $1,000 meticulously saved from two different $7-an-hour jobs and not much else. I had no car. I had no driver’s license. I had no credit history. Even if I had received a blessing from my mother, there would be no cash to help out, no bestowal of funds my parents had saved in a college fund. I was on my own. As the report explains, the key to financial stability is wealth (for example, assets, savings, stock holdings, business income), which can be passed from generation to generation, to ease the path for those struggling in their youth. However, for the more than 46 percent of single-parent black households that have zero or negative wealth, there is literally nothing to pass on — many households are struggling to stay afloat, living from paycheck to paycheck.

I left home nearly a decade ago, and if I had a time machine — well, I’m not sure I would have tried to talk my younger self out of making the leap toward independence, but I am sure I would have told her to prepare a little better. There just aren’t that many career options available to a 17-year-old runaway. I managed to return to an old job cutting up cold cuts and assembling sandwiches at Blimpie’s before leveraging a high school internship into my first office job. This was my first exposure to the work world, and the first time I had to navigate a semi-professional environment. Later, I enrolled in school in order to escape a lifetime of dead-end jobs and hourly work. At the time, I did not realize what I was seeking was access to “the wealth escalator.” Report author Mariko Chang defines the wealth escalator as “fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits — that are tied to employment, income, and marital status.”

You Might Also Like

Many young women are locked out of the wealth escalator due to various workplace realities. Generally, service positions (where nearly one-third of black and Hispanic women work, according to the report) do not offer benefits like paid time off, health insurance, or 401K plans. Professional- and managerial-class jobs provide these benefits, generally as a part of the hiring package. This lack of benefits tends to have a heavy effect on the lives of working women, forcing many to choose between their job security and personal illness or family emergency. And since many women cannot afford the loss of income from missing work, they will often find themselves in debt after a bout of illness or an accident. As expenses mount, income shrinks, placing women into a financial bind. The pathway out of this is to land a better job — but thanks to constraints from the personal (aptitude, education, familial responsibilities) to the structural (racism, sexism), finding a new gig is easier said than done.

As I went a little further in my career, I discovered just how much ignorance keeps us in the financial wilderness. For those of us working our way up from service positions, who may not have the benefit of professional or managerial parents and friends, it can be shocking to learn there are other, workplace-based options to help enhance your savings. The first time I landed a job with a decent benefits package, there was a human resources professional there to explain to me the various merits of certain health insurance plans, why there was a 401K plan with no matching (and what pre-tax contributions meant) and how I could use these things to achieve my own personal goals.

If only more of us were that lucky.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>