Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wealth Gap for Single Black Women

I just read a most disturbing article about a study that found black women at the very bottom of our society economically. I'm not surprised that their position is lower than many others', but the degree to which they are, even compared to other women, is horrifying. Some of the most heartbreaking facts:
  • The median wealth (assets minus debts) of single black women is five dollars. Yep, 5 bucks. Compare that to single white women, whose median wealth is $42, 600.
  • Black women support friends, family, and their churches to a greater degree than the general population. (A helping spirit is a good thing, right? And shouldn't be cause for poverty.) Yet they are more likely to have lower paying jobs and less access to health insurance.
  • More than 70% of black families in Pittsburgh are headed by single mothers.
This is an atrocity, for everyone in this country. What can we do about it?

The article mentions that the high single-motherhood statistic is likely related to the alarmingly high incarceration rates of black men, which I agree is key. (More on this later and how it relates to the number of black kids in foster care--also see activist work by Van Jones). But I take issue with this quote: "High unemployment and high incarceration rates for black men also lower the likelihood of single black women finding a partner to help build a more secure financial future." This assumes that single black women only want to be with black men, or that it's the only option for them. That doesn't have to be the case, of course.

(I've been thinking lately about this issue, and wondering how often minority women settle for men who aren't the best for them because "in race" options are slim.)

The article then suggests that new government policy is what is needed to amend these issues. A friend has been introducing me to a more libertarian point of view, and I'm starting to think that good-policies-gone-wrong are a big part of why we got here in the first place. Our welfare system is a mess--rarely does it help lift people out of poverty. Policies can appear to be colorblind, but are they really in practice? (It's a known fact that the initial crackdown on marijuana and the propaganda programs demonizing it in this country were directly aimed at latino men.) Plus it's hard to implement laws and regulations that result in the best for everyone, especially in such a diverse society.

The director of the Closing the Gap Initiative said this: "Our government knows how to build wealth for people..." Oh, really...How so? And how might it do so for black women? Require that they be paid 10 times more than white women in the workplace? It's easy to see how that would work out. Change the pay rates of entire industries that currently employ a high percentage of black women? Offer free childcare? Set all the imprisoned black men free?

Something needs to change, that's for sure. But these issues are so complex and deeply entrenched in society that I can't imagine a policy that will do it.

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