The Racial Wealth Divide

by Christine Bork
CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

Christine Bork

Christine Bork

Today, I’d like to discuss the wealth gap that exists between different racial/ethnic communities. In the current economic climate, inequalities that have historically hammered communities of color are amplified, and we see more clearly why wealth accumulation (assets minus debts) is so important. According to an executive summary from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, many of the roots of the racial wealth gap lie in past and present institutional factors: “These include but are not limited to the ways in which government benefits, the tax code, and fringe benefits exclude many women of color from wealth-building opportunities that are provided to other segments of the American population.”

In other words, historically, U.S. domestic economic policy (i.e. The Homestead Act, the G.I. Bill and the creation of the Social Security system) has been constructed to put wealth in the hands of white men. Whether intended or not, the result of such racial segregation of poverty is stark. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 25 percent of households headed by white women with children live in poverty, compared to 41 percent of African-American women and 45 percent of Latina women.

Much of wealth and asset building is dependent upon more than the family one happens to be born into. External factors, such as industry sector, wage growth, access to health care benefits, and even zip code contribute to a woman of color’s ability to accumulate enough to support her family across generations. Under-resourced women of color are more likely to work in service sector jobs that fail to provide a sustainable wage or enough hours to receive benefits – which also jeopardizes individual wealth and family stability. Moreover, huge numbers of African American and Latina women are segregated in communities that were sold the worst banking and mortgage products, endangering the most valuable of American assets – their homes. Without critical wealth and/or asset building opportunities, families of color are relegated to living paycheck to paycheck, edging one step closer to financial ruin when they encounter job loss or an illness.

If we want to invest in our community’s future, we must find a way to provide all women with what they need to support their families responsibly across generations. Undoubtedly controversial, this means progressive tax reform; it means affordable health care that isn’t dependent on employment; it means pay equity and sustainable wages that grow rather than flatten. Otherwise, the prospect of living in a society marked by such a widening wealth and racial divide is antithetical to the notion of justice.

CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the oldest and largest women’s organization in Chicago, whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women.  As CEO, Christine recently led the YWCA’s completion of a $5.4 million campaign in the worst recession since the Great Depression.  While most dread asking for donations, Christine believes, as phrased by fundraising pioneer Hank Rosso, that “fundraising is the gentle art of teaching people the joy of giving.” Christine is a sought-after speaker on leadership, bringing her twenty years of nonprofit management experience with the American Red Cross, Easter Seals, and Provena Mercy Hospital Foundation to business leaders in Chicago and across the country.  She also shares her expertise on issues affecting women and girls in her Huffington Post Chicago blog.  Christine was recently named one of Today’s Chicago Woman’s “100 Women Making a Difference.”  A graduate of the University of Chicago and Benedictine University, Christine is a member of the Economics Club of Chicago and The Chicago Network.  Christine loves watching movies with her children, and, in her limited free time, enjoys riding her motorcycle. Follow her on Twitter at @YWCAchicagoCEO.


Stand Against Racism logoThis post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

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