A quarter of Black Americans said their current financial situation was worse now than it was a year ago, before the pandemic, compared to 17% of their White peers, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year. Among adults who are usually able to save, 44% of Black respondents said they are saving less than they were in early 2020, compared to just over a quarter of White Americans.
This inequity stems in part from Black Americans having far less wealth and savings to turn to during tough times than White Americans. And the gaps also give Black households less of a springboard to recover when the economy picks up again.
“If you don’t have the wealth, it’s a gamble of how you are going to be on the other end,” Fenaba Addo, associate professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said of the pandemic-fueled downturn’s impact on Black Americans. “It may be a while before people are able to rebuild themselves and their families from this.”
The typical non-Hispanic White household had a net worth of $188,200 in 2019, compared with $24,100 for a non-Hispanic Black family, according to Federal Reserve Bank data.
Only 45% of Black Americans own homes, compared to nearly 74% of White Americans, according to the most recent Census Bureau data.
Also contributing to their vulnerability: Black Americans are much less likely to invest in stocks or mutual funds than White Americans and have less than a quarter of the savings set aside for emergencies.
Homeowners with mortgages gained an average of $33,400 in home equity between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021, according to CoreLogic, which analyzes property data. And the stock market is at or near record highs.
Though he received enhanced federal unemployment benefits and cashed in his tiny retirement account, he still had to downsize to a smaller apartment in Baltimore, Maryland, and give up his beloved 2008 Subaru Impreza, which he used to visit his mother, see friends and go to the beach and on hikes.
Jones now has a better, albeit contract job with the Baltimore school system as a student support aide that he hopes will turn into a teaching position, as well as a part-time gig as a bartender. Still, the pandemic has set back both his career and his wallet.
“Coming out of the pandemic without a nest egg or something you can liquidate puts you at a disadvantage,” said Jones, 34, adding that he could have been better prepared for the downturn had he learned about finances and savings when he was younger. “I would have gladly sold some stock to get $1,200 to fix my car.”
Older non-Hispanic White millennials, meanwhile, narrowed the gap in their expected wealth over those three years, according to the institute. The typical family had a net worth of roughly $88,000 in 2019, only 5% below expectations, compared to a shortfall of 40% in 2016.
Millennials impacted by student debt crisis
One thing that is weighing down older Black millennials, who were born in the 1980s, is student debt. Some 81% of college graduates in this group have student loans, with a median value of $52,000, compared to just over half of older White millennials, whose median balance is $40,000, according to Federal Reserve Bank data.
Black Americans, as well as Hispanic Americans, risk getting left behind, she said.
That’s exactly what worries Nick Howell of Twinsburg, Ohio. Though he kept his position as a restaurant manager and his wife was only laid off for one day from her job at a plastics factory, it was the federal government relief efforts that helped them stabilize their finances during the pandemic.
The deferral on payments on their combined $75,000 in student loans and the stimulus checks allowed them to move out of Howell’s parents’ home into a rental apartment, as well as pay off some credit card debt.
Howell, 39, landed a better job as a general manager of a local restaurant chain last month, but the family is still living paycheck to paycheck. The rising price of gas and groceries is putting further strain on their wallet, as are the medical bills for their 7-year-old son, who broke his arm last summer trying to recreate the sledding down the stairs scene in “Home Alone.”
“How are we going to handle that?” asked Howell, who has a master’s degree in higher education. “We’re still where we were — in debt, trying to work it off and hoping for no car breaking down or kid expenses or anything to put us further behind.”