A few weeks ago, I heard of a report that looked at the differences of wealth for white women and women of color. The report is titled Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future and was conducted by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. It contained some very troubling facts. Here are just a few, pulled from the Executive Summary (it should be noted that wealth here excludes vehicles)
(also, remember median means “middle” — half the women/people are above that vale, and half are below it):
- Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, which is approximately 1 percent of the wealth of their same-race male counterparts. It is only a fraction of one-percent of the wealth of single white women.
- Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero, or negative wealth (negative wealth occurs when the value of debts is greater than the value of assets).
- Never-married women of color have a median wealth of zero. In comparison, never married white women have a median wealth of $2,600, never married men of color $4,020, and never-married white men $16,310.
- Divorced women of color have a median wealth of $4,200, which is 26% of the wealth of divorced men of color ($16,100), 8% of the wealth of divorced white women ($52,120), and 5% of the wealth of divorced white men ($80,000).
- Black and Hispanic mothers with children under age 18 have a median wealth of zero. Black and Hispanic fathers have a median wealth of $10,960 and $2,400, respectively. White mothers have a median wealth of $7,970 and white fathers have $56,100.
- Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.
This is what systemic racism looks like. Obviously there is disparity here, and it might be easy enough to claim that women of color don’t work hard enough or that they do or don’t do certain things to bring such statistics on themselves. However, there are much greater and more powerful structural components to this problem that create this issue and allow such racism to continue. Again, the Executive Summary puts things in context:
“The earnings of women of color are not converted to wealth as quickly because they are not linked with the “wealth escalator” — fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits.”
I would add that the opportunities of education and work are not equally afforded to women of color. The report notes these statistics:
- Women of color are more likely to work in service occupations — 28% of black and 31% of Latina women compared to 19% of white women and only 12% of white men. These jobs are the least likely to provide wealth-enriching benefits such as retirement plans, paid sick days, and health insurance.
- Women of color benefit less from tax advantages such as the home mortgage interest deduction because they are less likely to own homes. Due to residential segregation, their homes typically have less value and appreciate less quickly.
- Women of color depend more on Social Security because they lack other sources of retirement income. In fact, Social Security is the only sources of retirement income for more than 25% of black women. But women of color receive lower Social Security benefits because of their lower earnings and because they are less likely to receive benefits as wives of high-income beneficiaries.
- Women of color are less likely to meet eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance since part-time workers (primarily women) are often ineligible for benefits.
- Women of color have been hard hit by predatory lending practices. Of low- and moderate-income borrowers, Hispanic women were almost one and a half times more likely and black women more than twice as likely to receive high-cost home loans as white women.
- Many women of color who received subprime home loans could have qualified for conventional lower-cost mortgages. Subprime home loans cost a borrower between $50,000 and $100,000 more than a comparable prime loan over the life of the loan.
Aside from the startling statistics, I wanted to share this as an example of institutionalized racism. The word “racism” has been thrown around a lot lately, especially in relation to the health care bill. Often when people say it, they are referring to personal acts perpetrated by individuals. However, we need to recognize that U.S. society is structured in many ways to benefit whites and oppress people of color, and we all (but especially us whites whom the structure already benefits) must work toward changing the system to create equality for all people
The personal bigotry may always remain, but the structures that perpetuate oppression and racism must go.
(See here a 20-minute discussion on the topic from Democracy Now! with guests Mariko Lin Chang, the chief author of the report, and C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network.)