According to the Washington Post, Black women are bearing a heavier responsibility for family and friends than their white counterparts, even as they struggle to emerge from an economic downturn that has hit them harder. The Post came to this conclusion after it, along with the Kaiser Family Foundation, conducted a survey of 800 black women and discovered that Black women have more hardship paying bills and getting loans than their white female counterparts.
I’m not the least bit surprised by this information. In fact if it said that the vast amount of black women weren’t struggling financially I would be more surprised. Generally speaking, married or cohabitating black women have a median net worth of $31,500, which is generously less than their white counterparts. Black women are disproportionately more likely to receive a subprime loan and other predatory high-cost loans than any other demographic. And while women of all races tend to bring home less income and own fewer assets than men, the disparities for Black women are so great that their debt to wealth ratio results in only a median wealth income of $5. That’s right, generally speaking our acquired wealth amounts to the price of a Subway foot long hoagie. All of this combined has undermined financial sovereignty and stability for many families, leading to devastating economic consequences that evidence shows may disproportionately affect Black women.
However, the other portion of this article focused on a cause that we rarely talk about when discussing financial matters. According to the Post, nearly half of the women surveyed said they help out elderly relatives, and more than a third regularly assist friends or family with child care — outpacing white women in both cases. On the surface, it would seem admirable, if not idyllic – that with so much happening in the world it is nice to know that there is still a sense of community happening. But at what cost are we as Black women holding down the community while we struggle to make ends meet? I have two stories to help illustrate these situations.
About six months ago, I was driving a young woman in distress home after the father of her child refused to come pick her up from her job. We got to talking about her current situation and future goals. Currently she was in a bad situation, bouncing between the shelter and the house of her drug addicted mother and had no money, no family to fall back on or any other place to go. Despite the direness of her situation, this young woman still had it in her to assist another young woman in distress with housing. Despite not really having a place of her own to call home, this young woman offered to share her room with this stranger she had met in the shelter. Despite her generosity, the stranger, whom she had opened up her space to, stole the money that was supposed to be used to eventually find herself a place of her own.
Recently, I was in the gas company’s service center, paying my high-A$$ gas bill before they come to shut it off, when a woman in front of me started chatting with another older Black woman in the adjacent utility assistance line. Her son accompanied the older woman. I know this because she kept talking about him extensively. She said that he was a good boy, despite still living at home, being tatted up to his eyeballs and having a penchant for prison and baby mama drama. Mind you, the “boy” appeared to look somewhere in his late 30s.
Anyway, the conversation switched to talk about her heating bill, which was in the thousands, and how they were going to turn her heat off. I listened as she talked about the rising cost of home heating, which is true, and the struggle we were all having in paying our bills, which is another truth. However, I kept looking at her son, who seemed much more able bodied than his mother, who seemed to be somewhere near her 60s, and wondered why she had to be at the gas company at all begging for them to not cut her heat off.