Trying to Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents: Women, the Wealth Gap, and Why Race Still Matters

30 Mar

Re-posted from  Race-Talk

In a recent Facebook post, one of my friends was incredulous that more than half of all single mothers live below the poverty line. He asked, “What can we do to solve this problem?” His question reminded me of the report released earlier this month by the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development. Among the shocking and disheartening statistics, the report found that Black women between the prime working ages of 36 and 49 had a median wealth of $5, [i.e., not even enough to remedy a stressful work day with a McDonalds or Starbucks binge]. White women, by comparison, had a median wealth of $42, 600.

Among all single working women ages 18-64, the report found that Black women had a median wealth of $100, Latina women had a median wealth of $120, and white women had a median wealth of $41,500.  To add insult to injury, nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero wealth or negative wealth, which is calculated by subtracting outstanding debt from current assets. Having just completed a very expensive graduate school education, I will be transparent enough to say that I am one of these women. Unlike some of my statistically represented sisters, however, my education and credentials grant me future earning power. But the current recession statistics tell us that communities of color are those hit hardest by recent economic setbacks; in fact, families of color have only 16 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth in a white family. When it comes to single mothers, the numbers are abysmally worse. Trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents might be where it’s at in rap music, but that’s about the only place.

Back on Facebook, I responded to my friend with a few potential solutions: a.) provide tax credits to those businesses who offer child daycare services for employees for free or at substantially reduced costs. b.) offer additional tax credits to those employers who offer educational incentives for women  c.) provide paid hours of sick leave, even for hourly wage workers, so that taking time off to care for a sick child would not create insurmountable economic hardships.

These dismal statistics on women of color and the wage gap can provide us an opportunity to have some of the conversations that we aren’t currently having and  teach us a few important lessons along the way, namely that:

  • Attending explicitly to the impact of racism, classism, and sexism on women of color is essential to correcting social inequity.
  • We are no more post-feminism than we are post-race.
  • A redefinition of the term “hard work” is in order, because these women are working extremely hard, but they are working in the types of jobs under the types of conditions that were never meant to help create wealth.
  • Our nation remains in jeopardy of reproducing a permanent underclass if we do not seriously re-route our conversations on the distribution of wealth.
  • And finally, that desperate times call for courageous measures.
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2 Responses to “Trying to Make a Dollar Out of Fifteen Cents: Women, the Wealth Gap, and Why Race Still Matters”

  1. Den-ise March 31, 2010 at 8:12 AM #

    Your last line “Desperate times call for courageous measures”, strikes a deep chord with me. It’s like a call to action. Now, the hard task of taking it up and doing something.

    • crunktastic March 31, 2010 at 8:38 AM #

      Thanks. I think we just have to remember that courageous thinking, thinking that says “there must be a better way; this simply cannot be all there is,” is a critical prerequisite to any courageous actions we must take. In fact courageous thinking is a form of courageous action, particularly in a moment when anti-intellectualism clears the path to our swift destruction.

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