Wealth Gap is Greatest for Women of Color

Women of all races experience a gender wealth gap compared with white men, but the disparities are greatest for women of color–especially black women whose median wealth amounts to only $5 in their prime working years, according to a recent report released by The Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The report uses data from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), and addresses some of the racial, ethnic and financial inequalities women face, many with so little in reserve that they could not afford to take an unpaid sick day or to even have a major appliance repaired without going into debt.

“It’s well known that there is still an income gap, but I was totally shocked to see the disparity in wealth between African Americans and whites,” said Meizhu Lui, director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative. The report defines wealth or net worth as the total value of one’s assets — checking accounts, stocks, bonds, real estate — minus all outstanding debts — mortgages, credit card debts, and student loans.

Nearly half of all single black women have a zero or negative wealth, according to the report. Single black women age 18-64 have a median household wealth of only $100, while their black male counterparts have $7,900. Single white women in that age group have a median household wealth of $41,500. Married or cohabitating black women have a median household income of $31,500 compared to $167,500 for white women.

While there is no single explanation for the wealth gap, the report says that wage disparities, favorable tax codes, and marital status are some of the reasons for wealth inequality among women of color.

“It’s frightening to see that we’re at such a huge disadvantage,” said Dr. Avis Jones-Deweever, director of research, public policy, and information for the National Council of Negro Women. “But what’s even more nonsensical is the fact that black women work very hard. Historically we’ve had the highest labor force participation of any women in America so to see these figures is astounding.”

Debt also widens the wealth gap. Black women were more likely to have installment debt in the form of education loans, credit card debt, and were more than twice as likely to receive high-interest loans and subprime mortgages compared to white women. Those with higher incomes were two to three times more likely, depending on the region, to have received subprime loans. The National Council of Negro Women estimates that a subprime loan cost a borrower $50,000 to $100,000 more over the loan term than a comparable prime loan.

“There are institutional government policies that have been made and continue to be made to exacerbate the gap,” said Lui. “It’s like the white escalator versus the people of color treadmill. Everybody is working hard but whites are getting a boost through government policies — we need some policy that will give us a ride on the escalator too.”