The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Black Women and Financial Literacy, Wealth Management, and Monetary Advancement Opportunities
By Sakeema Payne, 2023 DWJ Public Policy Economic Security Fellow
Mean Green. Moolah. Money. Is it an ugly word? Some may say so. Finances are always a difficult subject to talk about—especially in the Black community, and there is certainly an ‘ugly’ history concerning Black Americans and finances in the United States. For centuries, the Black population in the United States has been excluded from conversations on how to develop financial literacy and wealth. And sadly, for those Black Americans who did manage to obtain wealth, often through business ownership or land ownership—their assets were often destroyed or even stolen.
One can see this when learning about Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other majority black towns, and about the countless stories of Black farmers in the 20th century being harassed, and driven off their land as well. Oftentimes, such farmers couldn’t stand the harassment, and left for the safety of their families. Sadly, this kind of harassment is still happening today.
However, despite the overt and covert racism Black Americans face and the odds stacked against them, the same resilient spirit to thrive—the resilient spirit to keep going which was in the bodies of their ancestors—is deep and still flourishing inside the bodies of Black Americans today—especially Black women.
In the past, and primarily due to racial barriers and gender expectations, Black women in particular, have been heavily excluded from higher education and the business sector. But, as these recent statistics show, Black women are reclaiming their right to develop and thrive financially. According to J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, “as of 2021, Black women are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the United States”. Secondly, the National Center For Education Statistics (NCES) exclaims that between 2018 and 2019, Black women “made up 68% of associate’s degrees, 66% of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees, and 65% of doctoral, medical and dental degrees [in the United States.]” However, with this advancement, there is always another side of the coin. No pun intended. For instance, although Black women have graduated from college in higher numbers than ever, a 2017 analysis conducted by The Education Trust found that, “Black women hold more student debt than any other group — with an average of $38,800 in federal undergraduate loans, [and] Black female borrowers who attended graduate school hold an average of $58,252 in graduate loans.” Secondly, although there are countless Black women opening businesses at a higher rate, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management also found, that in the long run–Black woman owned businesses are more likely to close their doors, “there are fewer established businesses run by Black women relative to their high rate of entrepreneurship, with just 3% of Black women running mature businesses (maturation is widely recognized as a business surviving past five years)”. Sadly, these issues on the other side of the coin can often be attributed to current and past systemic racial barriers and gender expectations. These very same obstacles that harmed and held back Black women in the past, are still alive and kicking today, and have done residual damage from the past at that.
Now, because of these barriers that Black women have faced for centuries and still face today exist, does not mean that Black women should just stop and decide to not even attempt at achieving their goals, or achieving financial freedom. The answer is No.
Nothing in life is or has to remain stagnant. The good thing is that debt is able to be paid back, and Black woman owned businesses are able to thrive. There are countless Black Americans living debt free, and many examples of successful Black woman owned businesses in the United States. It may take time for one to reach these goals and aspirations, and anything of value certainly does. Thankfully with the increased usage and reliance on the internet there have been many Black women sharing their financial journey’s and solutions to financial issues online. Black women often share their stories of how they got out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and some share on how they built their successful business, despite failing previously. Some Black women have even created websites and free courses on how to achieve financial freedom and build and manage wealth. Secondly, there also have been multiple books written by Black women that specifically speak to the unique financial journey of Black women, giving solutions on how to get out of debt, build wealth, and build a successful business. Lastly, to address Black women and their career ambitions, salary disparities, and to provide solutions to career hurdles, there have been many Black woman owned businesses such as Launch Your Influence, PositiveHire, and IChooseTheLadder, that are dedicated to coaching Black women on how to develop their careers, overcome career obstacles, get promoted, and earn a higher salary.
Although Black women have our unique roadblocks and crosses to bear, we must know that it does not mean that we cannot not get past difficult times, situations, or reach our financial goals. We also must remember, and understand, that because of our unique history and struggles, comparison to the successes and triumphs of other demographics in the United States will never be just. Black women have overcome, and achieved so much in just a few centuries, and we surely have a bright future ahead. In the words of Maya Angelou “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise, into a daybreak that's wondrously clear, I rise, bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise.”
2023 DWJ Public Policy Economic Security Fellow