As a child, I knew that wealth was not something my family owned. My mother worked the night shift, occasionally working three part-time jobs to pay bills and keep food on our table. My father was always fastidiously studying, first to earn his GED, and eventually his master’s degree. We didn’t have a family savings account to catch us if things hit the proverbial fan. While my family was able to slowly build a life that placed us solidly in America’s middle-class, I always instinctively knew that wealth was for someone — but certainly never us.
As a Black woman, my relationship with wealth is like a mange squirrel operating on a system of extreme acorn scarcity. I work hard because I am one step away from a generation of poverty. Even more — despite my financial stability and privilege — I constantly worry about my family’s financial health. Do I have enough money to pay our bills? Can I afford an emergency? How will I pay for child care and save for my children’s college if I’m still paying for my student loans?
Compounding on top of my own experiences is COVID-19, the tsunami that made landfall on America’s shores earlier this year.
Former Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton shared that the current COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian crisis of Titanic proportion, one in which “not all Ohioans will be able to get on a lifeboat in the end.” Her words could not be more accurate. However, for many Black women in America, we haven’t had a lifeboat since the day we were born.
By now, unprecedented seems like an overused pejorative to describe a year that has been a cluster of monstrosities. With headlines like The First Female Recession Threatens to Wipe Out Decades of Progress for U.S. Women or Working Moms, Their Careers Hit Hard by Coronavirus Pandemic, 2020 has unearthed dark truths that we need to confront. One of those truths is our society’s relationship with wealth.
In central Ohio, median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers, when compared to white men:
- Asian Pacific Islander women earn 79.2¢ to the dollar
- Black women earn 65¢ to the dollar
- Latina women earn 60¢ to the dollar
- White women earn 82¢ to the dollar
Nationally, median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers, when compared to white men:
- Asian Pacific Islander women earn 88.8¢ to the dollar
- Black women earn 63.5¢ to the dollar
- Latina women earn 54.5¢ to the dollar
- White women earn 80¢ to the dollar
Nationally, when compared to all single men:
- Single Black women own 2¢ to the dollar
- Single Latina women own 8¢ to the dollar
- All single women own 40¢ to the dollar
Yes, you read that correctly — single Black women own 2¢ to the dollar when compared to all single men.
Considering the challenges women have faced to guarantee equal legal rights in America, it (unfortunately) should be no surprise that women own less wealth than men. However, the fact that single Black women can’t rub more than two pennies together to call their own is an abomination that requires urgent action.
As Black women, we face a mountain of barriers that impact our ability to accumulate wealth. These barriers include lack of access to affordable housing, lack of household savings, and low access to capital and investments. It includes being beholden to a cycle of low-paying or part-time jobs without sufficient access to health care and child care. It includes being on the receiving end of targeted, risky, subprime loans with high-interest rates. As Black women, we live at the intersection of structural gender and racial discriminations, which compound to exacerbate a legacy of economic insecurity for generations.
As women of color, we do not have access to accelerators to ensure economic security for our children and grandchildren. However, multigenerational policy and program changes would help increase our short-term economic security and help many women start to build intergenerational wealth. To change this trajectory, investment in organizations like The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio is critical.
The Women’s Fund serves as a resource for mobilizing action to close the wealth gap by collaborating with community partners, policymakers, and leaders to protect economic empowerment for all women. To transform the accumulation of wealth — especially for women of color — policy solutions should include the following accelerators and goals:
- Access to affordable and high-quality child care and early childhood education
- Elimination of the wage gap
- Paid family and medical leave and sick days
- Access to business ownership and entrepreneurship
- Tax credits for first-time homebuyers
- Flexible work schedules
- Employer-sponsored health insurance and benefits
- Employer-sponsored retirement plans
- Access to life and disability insurance
As a community, we’ve made many challenging decisions in response to the pandemic. We’ve decided whether to open or close schools, mandate the wearing of masks, and how to keep small businesses alive. However, women sit at the forefront of the pandemic’s lasting economic impact. Black women have and will continue to carry the burden of the pandemic far past 2020 if we do not make a concerted effort to right the course of what Dr. Acton has described as the world’s greatest “unsinkable” ship.
Thanks to the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, we now know what we can do to ensure economic prosperity for women of color.