By James Clingman
In a 2010 report titled, “Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future,” posted by Insight – Center for community and Economic Development, a startling and unbelievable statistic was cited. Written by Mariko Chang, with the help of Meizhu Lui, Director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative, the report stated the median wealth for Black females from “36-49 years of age is $5.00.”
If you studied statistics, you may remember that the “median” is the number in the middle of a given set of numbers. That being true, this statistic also means that an equal number of Black women in that age group have even less wealth, while the other half is higher. To be exact, the report used the term “women of color,” which includes Hispanic as well as Black women.
So what are we to make of yet another indicator of Black economic disparity – or should I say economic despair? Do we just shake our heads and continue down the path of apathy, giving into the notion that there’s nothing we can do about it? Do we view it as a microcosm of our overall economic condition? Or, do we address this issue head-on with our “leaders” and demand economic, political, educational, and social change?
For perspective, the report also states: “White women in the prime working years of ages 36-49 have a median wealth of $42,600. Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth. Moreover, in comparison to their same-sex white counterparts, women of color in the two youngest age groups, have less than 1% of the wealth of white women…” The report also noted the same relative statistics for Black men.
Compared to White people, Blacks are so far behind that it’s almost meaningless to even discuss the “gaps” in income and wealth. In addition, compared to Asians and so-called “East Indians,” who even exceed Whites in some categories, we have moved to fourth place on the economic scale, only barely ahead of Hispanics.
That notwithstanding, John Sibley Butler’s “Economic Detour” that Black people had to take to create wealth in this country, the discrimination against us in credit and land ownership, the lack of government assistance as opposed to the subsidies White companies received, we have come quite a distance in spite of having to run from behind with weights tied to our feet. But how much consolation can and should we take from that?
We are still in very poor economic shape as a whole, which the $5 of wealth Black women 36-49 years of age hold graphically indicates. Our families are still at the bottom in median net worth; our businesses are at the bottom in receipts and number of employees; and our children are still at the bottom in education and employment, but at the top in incarceration.
Doesn’t this suggest to you that we have to change our economic behavior? Doesn’t it indicate a dire need to develop multiple streams of income for our people? Doesn’t our position in this country, much of its wealth having been built on the backs of our enslaved ancestors, point out that business as usual is a prescription for failure? How many more reports do we need? The one I cited was written four years ago in 2010, but there are so many others that were written over 100 years ago. What are we waiting for, the next crisis?
Some of our women are worth less now than they were on the auction block, and we are sitting around waiting for Barack Obama to make things right. We are ensconced in discussions about politics and politicians who are doing absolutely nothing to help us. We are spending our time on voting rights instead of economic rights, not understanding that our voting rights only lead to economic rights for the politicians and their hacks. We are not asleep; we are in a coma!
For twenty-one years I have been sounding the alarm via this column, first locally in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then nationally via the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), and others have done much the same thing for even longer. It is beyond frustration, disappointment, discouragement, and disillusion that I submit another wake-up call to my people in hope and prayer that we will work together to change our economic situation in this country. Even though a segment of our women are only worth $5, we have the collective wherewithal to raise that value exponentially. We have the economic capability to determine our own worth. Do we have the will?
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.