By Julianne Malveaux
African Americans are overrepresented among the poor, but it would be a mistake to conclude that all African Americans are poor. We are all aware of the seven, eight, and even nine-figure incomes of luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and Jay Z, hundreds of athletes, tech leaders, and many others who are “living large.”
It is equally important, though, to acknowledge those African Americans who, while not wealthy, are earning more than simple survival wages.
While African American families have a median income of about $33,000, White families have a median income of about $54,000. With median wealth of $113,000, the average White family has wealth at 20 times that of African Americans.
Several historical and contemporary factors contribute to these income and earnings gaps. African Americans have less education, higher unemployment, less intergenerational wealth, less access to employment opportunities, among other things. While there has been significant progress since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, from an economic perspective, some gaps are widening instead of narrowing.
Still, it is important to note that more than a third of all African Americans have incomes of more than $50,000 a year. These incomes would be considered, by some sources, middle class incomes. Fewer African Americans than Whites have these relatively comfortable incomes, but too many conversations about race and economic status proceed as if all African Americans are either poor or, as in the case of our superstars, extremely wealthy. Those African Americans who have comfortable incomes are often overlooked from the policy perspective. And too many are simply silent.
One of the reasons this is a relevant topic during this time of the year that ‘tis the season to be giving. If your mailbox looks anything like mine, it is full of requests to contribute to a myriad of causes. Some are causes I’ve given to before. Others suggest that the sender has done absolutely no research on me. Contributions for dogs? Please. It would be politically incorrect to suggest that my position on dogs is that they should not be allowed to populate the earth.
The United Negro College Fund? Worthy, but I’d rather give my money to individual colleges for scholarshiops. I also believe every African American who did not go to an HBCU needs to adopt one. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the NAACP and the Urban League? Absolutely. These organizations are fighting for our rights and they deserve to be supported. Our sororities, fraternities, or alma maters? Of course, but only when they “do the right thing.”
African Americans are generous people. We are most likely to give to our churches, but are also likely to give to education, to social service organization, and to civil rights organizations. While the amounts of giving may be lower, the percentage of those giving is comparable, or even higher, than the giving among others.
We must be strategic with our giving. It makes more sense to target two or three organizations or causes that are important to us than to send a few dollars to a series of causes. If we are affiliated with an organization as a board member, that organization should be one of the top three organizations we give to. It doesn’t matter how much we give, though. It matters that we give.
End of the year solicitations come at such a pace because, for some dedications are tax-deductible and the end of the year is a great time to calculate the tax you will owe and the fact that giving money to charitable organizations may reduce tax liability. At the same time, all giving will not be tax deductible. If we don’t support our politicians, their efforts are weakened, and now that Congress has increased the amount of money that the wealthy can give to political action committees, those with more modest incomes must support the politicians that support us.
When African Americans are offered the opportunity to give, too many of us say we don’t have the disposable income to contribute. Our forefathers and mothers gave, frying chickens and baking cakes to support our churches and our historically Black colleges. Can we do less?
All Black people are not poor, and we ought not behave as if we are. We can afford to tithe to our churches, and we can afford to give to our institutions. If we don’t support ourselves, who will?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, DC based economist and author.