Tag Archives: money

Women of Color and Wealth – The Scope of The Problem [Part 1]

by Latoya Peterson

Yesterday, a headline in the Post-Gazette worked its way around Twitter:  Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5. Most outlets qualified the link by calling it “shocking” or mentioning the five dollar figure was not a typo.

I called up a fellow young black professional friend of mine and told her about the findings of the study.  “Is it messed up that I’m kind of glad in a way?” she asked, “I mean, all this time I’ve been wondering why I can’t get my shit together, but it turns out I’m normal.” We both laughed at her small attempt at gallows humor around a situation many of us know a little too intimately – when it comes to our white counterparts, women of color are light years behind in wealth.

The study is a new report from The Insight Center for Community Economic Development, titled “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future.”  The report is an in-depth look at the issues in wealth accumulation particular to black women, Latinas, Asian and Native American women.  However, even as this report is one of the most comprehensive I have seen on the subject, the limited data for Asian American and Native American women means that their statistics are limited from entire sections of the report, and discussed in a subsequent section about the need for better stats.  The report’s title is should be a familiar refrain to many black women, but the author of the report, Mariko Chang, kindly includes an explanation of the origin of the phrase:

More than a century ago, the National Association for Colored Women was founded by African American women leaders in response to a vicious attack on the character of African-American women. A few decades distant from the abolition of slavery, the intensification of poverty, discrimination, and segregation impelled these women to action in defense of their race. Their motto was “Lifting as We Climb,” signaling their understanding that no individual woman of color could rise, nor did they want to rise, without the improvement of the whole race. At the top of their agenda were job training, wage equity, and child care: issues that, if addressed, would lift all women, and all people of color.

The lift as we climb refrain was implanted into some of us from birth and a lot of my earliest lessons about black empowerment focused on financial empowerment.  Yet, these adages about saving money, investing in the community, and being a conscious consumer was like propping a footstool against a fifty foot high sheer rock wall.  Continue reading

Freaking out over Freakonomics

by guest contributor Jae Ran Kim, originally published at Harlow’s Monkey

I was dumbfounded to read Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt’s response on his NYT blog to a reader’s question about the economic ramifications of international adoption (thanks to durgamom on resist racism for bringing this to my attention). I’ve commented on Levitt before in this post.

Q: What is your opinion on how international adoption affects the economy, race and class divisions, and the widening income gap within the U.S.? What do you think of the argument that children are “readily available for adoption” in the U.S., and, further, that adoption is marketed as a product with benefits?

A: I don’t think international adoption affects the economy in any meaningful way. We are talking about very small numbers of children being adopted from foreign countries into the U.S. each year – perhaps 20,000 children total, compared to the 3 million children born each year in the U.S. Adoption does, however, profoundly affect those families that adopt. My life has been completely changed because of the two daughters my wife and I adopted from China.

You’re right that some people in the U.S. really don’t like foreign adoption. Some have argued that it is a form of subtle racism, in that parents like me will go to China to adopt, but won’t adopt a black child here in the U.S. This is a complex issue – far too complex for me to discuss in all its richness here. But let me at least explain some of the thinking underlying my own decision to adopt from abroad. The first factor was that our son, Andrew, had just died. We were not emotionally prepared to navigate the U.S. adoption scene, which is full of uncertainty for adoptive parents for two reasons: 1) the relative scarcity of healthy but unwanted babies being put up for adoption since the legalization of abortion; and 2) the emphasis on birth parent rights.

We did give some serious thought to adopting either a black child domestically, or adopting from Africa. It turns out that African adoption is extremely complicated, as Madonna discovered the hard way. Ultimately, my own view was that the identity issues faced by a black child raised by white parents would be too difficult. Some of my academic research with Roland Fryer has made clear to me the stark choices that black teens, especially boys, have to make about “who they are.” As a parent, I was not willing to take the chance on loving and raising an adopted child, only to know that when he became a teenager he would have to face the choice of being “black” or “white,” and that either choice would be very costly for him (and also for me). That same sort of racial “all or nothing” choice is not at play for Asian youths in our society.

First of all, Levitt doesn’t really respond to the majority of the reader’s question. He only tackles the economy part in terms of how it affects the overall US economy. Using the average fees for the most well known and respected adoption agency in my state, if adoptive parents paid an average of, say, $20,000 – $25,000 a child then those 20,000+ children adopted from other countries last year add up to $400,000,000 – $500,000,000. We know that not all of this money stays in the United States economy. So, granted, Levitt is correct that this sum is pretty insignificant in terms of how it affects the overall US economy. If you calculate the 108,006 children adopted internationally from 2002 – 2006 at an average of $20,000 per child, that pumps in $1,080,060,000 that pays for adoption workers and adoption agencies. However, Levitt doesn’t mention that the overall “adoption industry” expands way beyond the singular item of agency fees. There are all the post-adoption services provided by agencies, books, those damn t-shirts, culture camps, therapy, trainings, etc. Considering that in 2000, the adoption industry generated 1.5 billion dollars* and prices have only risen exponentially, I argue that Levitt is minimizing the economic impact because, like many of us, it appears unseemly to talk about children in terms of a financial spreadsheet.

Levitt’s response to the next part of the reader’s question really begins to veer away into his own personal rationalizations. Continue reading

Has Class Trumped Race? Part 2 – Interpreting Privilege

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

So, exactly what is privilege? It really depends on your perspective and definition. Let’s revisit my answers to the privilege checklist:

When you were in college:

If your father went to college, take a step forward.
If your father finished college
If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans

If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Many of these items have a class based assumption backing them. However, as other critics of the study have shown, it is fairly easy to have one of these things and not have it be a hallmark of privilege.

If you had your own computer at home.

My mother made sure that we acquired a computer. While we had no software on it (typing papers on Wordpad before there was spell check), my mother had gotten the impression that computers were the future. Also, a computer was a justifiable expense as it could be used for work, school work, and entertainment. We did without other luxuries, like cable TV.

If you had more than fifty books at home.

As others have pointed out, the assumption behind this one is that purchasing books (or having books in the home) is a mark of privilege, presumably because books are expensive items or because people in the lower class have poor reading skills. I am not sure which of those two scenarios the creators of the exercise used. However, books are also a very cheap form of entertainment. My sister and I were avid users of our local library, which also sold used books for a dime a piece when we were growing up. Within a few years, my sister and I had amassed a sizeable collection of children’s books for a very small amount of money – less than the cost of a brand new hardback. Continue reading

Bougie* by Design

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

“No one ever means bougie as a compliment. It’s never ‘Oh, you’re so bougie!’ It’s ALWAYS a negative trait.”

I had asked one of my close friends about being bougie and how the word is perceived in black circles. Depending on how it is used, bougie can almost be a curse word. Bougie is a stand in word for being racially removed, for pretending to be superior, for being out of touch with “true blackness.”

For many, being hit with a bougie label comes at random. Maybe it’s because you speak English with tight diction and clear pronunciation. Maybe it’s because you prefer off-broadway to the chitlin’ circuit. Or maybe it’s because someone doesn’t like how you dress, how you wear your hair, or your attitude.

When I lived in Prince George’s County, MD I got called a “bougie bitch” so often I started to think it was my name. What prompted those outbursts? I refused to get into a car with a man I did not know personally. I’ll stay my bougie ass right here and wait for the bus, thankyouverymuch.

Bougie is most often a label applied to us by someone other than ourselves, as a way of demonstrating their superiority. It implies that they are authentic and you are counterfeit.

I am not sure if the term bougie as I have encountered it exists outside of the black community. Still, I am always more amused than offended when I encounter the term. After all, the counter to being bougie is to prove one’s own street cred by discussing their own hardscrabble beginnings or the rough areas where they are affiliated.

I used to play this game, particularly when I was younger. Any assertions of the word “bougie” would magically vanish by reciting my father’s address. As I grew older, I stopped playing the game. It was foolish to me, particularly because the types of people held up as the paragon of blackness, the regular folks, the street preachers and hustlers, the young hoods and door-knocker earring wearing divas that populate my family tree are the people who pushed me to become as bougie as possible.

****

For my father’s 43rd birthday, he decided he wanted to do something a little different and step outside of his culinary comfort zone. Over the protests of my younger brother – who desperately wanted to make a mess of a plate of fried shrimp at Red Lobster – he asked me to name some more interesting restaurants near where I live.

I mentioned the local Burmese place. Dad was game.

After selecting entrees, our appetizers were delivered. They were a Burmese twist on an Indian samosa – wrapped in rice paper and lightly fried into small triangles. Dad ate one and enjoyed it. He asked what they were. I told him it was a samosa.

“A Samoan?” he asked.

“No, Dad, a samosa,” I explained, emphasizing the final syllable. “You know, like what you normally eat at an Indian restaurant.”

My dad regarded me with a bemused smile.

“Toya,” he gently chastised, “there weren’t any Indian restaurants in South East in the 70s.”

Fuck me. There was nothing left for me to say. Like a good daughter, I shut up and ate my Samoan. Continue reading

Race and Money – Michelle Singletary Calls Out Comparative Studies

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Michelle Singletary’s the Color of Money column in the Washington Post has been a must read for me for ages.

In her October 21st column, Michelle decided to tackle the issue of a financial report issued by two leading fund managers.

For 10 years, Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab have issued an annual report on the saving and investing habits of middle- and upper-income blacks.

The survey throws a spotlight on the progress of black money-management skills — or lack of progress. It also compares the investing behavior of blacks and whites.

Like many others, I’ve often found reason to comment on the results of the surveys. But now I wonder about the value of comparing the two groups. What exactly do we learn that can help change decades of economic differences? Do these surveys just perpetuate the notion that blacks aren’t taking care of business?

In a special “black paper” marking the 10th anniversary of their survey, Ariel and Schwab came to a sober conclusion. “For middle-class African-Americans,” the report said, “the march toward financial security has been an uphill journey marked by half steps, pauses and, for some, retreat. . . . The results consistently show that blacks save less than whites of similar income levels and are less comfortable with stock investing, which impedes wealth-building across generations and contributes to an impending retirement crisis in the African-American community.”

Interesting. Yet another financial crisis rocks the black community. In addition to high interest payday loans,and the subprime mortage fiasco, retirement savings spells another impending crisis for African-Americans. Or does it?

Michelle then summarizes the survey, highlighting:

This year’s Ariel-Schwab Black Investor Survey found that blacks had median investments of $48,000, compared with $100,000 for whites. The survey looks at blacks and whites who earn more than $50,000 annually.

When Schwab and the Chicago-based Ariel, a black-run mutual fund company, first teamed in 1998, 57 percent of blacks and 81 percent of whites said they owned individual stocks or stock mutual funds.

A decade later, that percentage still stands at 57 percent for blacks and has dropped to 76 percent for whites.

For the first time, Ariel and Schwab looked at middle- and upper-income black and white retirees. The survey found that retired blacks had a median invested savings of $73,000, compared with $210,000 for whites.

So, from the results of this survey, one would surmise that African-Americans are not saving and are putting themselves in a much more precarious position than their white counterparts. However, “one” is not Michelle Singletary. She keeps digging, focusing on one question in the report in particular: Continue reading