Wealth of inequality


BLACK women have never had it easy in American society. Historically, they've had to run a never-ending gauntlet of discrimination rooted in race and gender - the monstrous Scylla and Charybdis of modern capitalism.

Even before the economic downturn that stripped more than a trillion dollars from the economy, African-American women were well acquainted with what it means to be profoundly broke.

It wasn't easy to put a number on their degree of economic deprivation until recently. Researchers at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development crunched the data gathered by the Federal Reserve Board in its 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances and issued a report that should keep every American up at night.

According to "Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America's Future," single black women in America - not Haiti or some Third World republic - have median wealth of $5. That's right: $5.

That means half of the group has more wealth than $5 and half of the group has less. Wealth is the total amount of a person's assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, and real estate, minus all debts.

In comparison, single white women in their prime working years (36 to 49) have median wealth of $42,600. The disparity between the two groups is staggering in its unfairness and troubling in its implications for social equality.

Married or cohabiting white women have median wealth of $167,500, while black women in the same situations have $31,500. But when researchers put all working African-American women, ages 18 to 64, into one group, their median wealth becomes just $100.

Many factors contribute to this economic divide, but nothing justifies it. Whether it's the expense of raising children without partners, juggling competing financial obligations with fewer resources, or working at dead-end jobs, black women of all income levels are less likely to have personal savings or access to wealth-building opportunities.

Racial disparity in financial security is not a new problem in America, but this study shines a harsh light on an area that is too often ignored. Having the unvarnished facts is the first step toward dealing with it. Developing the political will to turn challenges into opportunities for single black women is a task that can't wait another day.