Op-EdOpinion

DANIELS: African Americans’ Lopsided Prosperity — High Education Rates but Economic Gaps Remain

Today in 2020, the African American community continues to benefit from the groundbreaking and trailblazing work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. More African Americans have college degrees and high school diplomas than ever before. Nearly 4.6 million African Americans hold bachelor’s degrees and 92 percent of African Americans have high school diplomas, up from only 54 percent in 1968. However, 2.6 million African Americans with college degrees are currently living in poverty. While income levels have increased, so too has our spending levels and debt.

Based on the latest data, African Americans spent $1.4 trillion in 2016 on consumer expenditures, which means we have access to income. Meanwhile, our wealth continues to be lower than any other race or ethnic group. For example, only 42.1% of African Americans own a home compared to 48% of Hispanic Americans and 72% of White Americans. These numbers do not reflect Dr. King vision — that civil rights gains would result in economic gains and greater prosperity for the African American community.

We cannot depend on governmental programs to significantly increase racial equality. Rather, we must change the way we use our financial resources and address financial issues that affect the African American community the most:

– Impatience, that is, “present-biased” spending for immediate gratification.
– Limited savings.
– Limited or no investments in financial assets (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.).
– Casual spending.
– Low credit scores.
– High debt loads.
– Low retirement savings.
– Poor consumer and mortgage loans with unfavorable terms and high interest.
– Limited wealth.

These age-old issues must be addressed if we are to close the deep financial and economic inequality gaps that still exist in this country. Providing greater access to financial knowledge and skills to African Americans of all ages and backgrounds are fundamental to achieving Dr. King’s dream. The notion that these issues would go away if systemic discrimination is eradicated is nothing more than a false hope.

The responsibility of addressing these issues must lie with our own institutions, leaders and among ourselves. African American churches, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and major organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) , and the National Urban League must strengthen their commitment to the dissemination of financial literacy to the African American community at large, which will generate greater economic growth and financial sustainability. Leaders must engage the community in key money management concepts and skills, financial values, and basic financial education. As it stands now, these institutions have not fully risen to the challenge with a comprehensive plan and commitment to enhance the financial and economic well-being of the community, which is needed now more than ever.

HBCUs and African American churches have daily and weekly audiences where money management concepts and skills can be integrated into their curricula, programs and activities. Colleges and universities must train not only engineers, accountants, scientists, teachers, business leaders, doctors and lawyers, but also money managers. Ministers must not only teach biblical scriptures, but also money management. This can be done effectively by utilizing professional financial educators who are component and knowledgeable about all topics of personal finance and able to make learning easy and engaging.

As an educator who has taught financial literacy for more than 20 years to people in communities across this nation, I have witnessed how the power of financial education can change and motivate individuals to greater financial and economic stability for themselves and their families. That should be a top priority for all of us to work together to ensure that this becomes a reality for a larger percentage of African Americans.

We must do so with the goal of empowering our community to achieve the economic clout necessary to break the glass ceiling of inequality in a nation where Black prosperity matters.

Daniels is the founder and president of the Society for Financial Education and Professional Development, Inc., (SFE&PD), a nonprofit that focuses on financial literacy training for individuals, particularly students of historically Black colleges and universities and others. For more information on SFE&PD, contact Daniels at 703-920-3807 or at tdaniels@sfepd.org.

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