Friday, March 26, 2010

Women of Color and Finances

While perusing the news this week, I came across a story that made me go "Huh?" Apparently, the average single African-American woman in the United States is worth $5. The findings were from a study by the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development, titled “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future.” When I started thinking about it and between credit card debt, student loan payments, mortgage payments, car payments, etc., plus having the lowest average income of any other ethnic/gender group other than Native American/Hawaiian women, it starts making more sense.

However, this should not be a given. Those of us who work in tutoring and mentoring organizations work tirelessly to help empower low-income minority youth so that they have the tools to break out of poverty and find a career that they enjoy and that pays well. If many of the young women who we work with end up being worth $5, that's a problem for all of us and needs to be remedied.

I encourage you to read this 5-part series on Women of Color and Finances by Latoya Peterson on the blog Racialicious. Please read the comments as well, because many of the comments, not just from women and not just from people of color, talk very frankly and intelligently about why they find themselves with financial problems.

Many of the reasons that the study gives, and that Ms. Peterson and the commentors also talk about are the same problems that we are trying to combat working in tutoring and mentoring programs. Some talk about growing up in poverty, where their family lives from paycheck-to-paycheck. The idea of saving money is foreign and when money does come in, it is spent. Some individuals, if they do find themselves to be successful and making money, find themselves burdened with taking care of their parents, other family members, and friends who are less fortunate financially. There is also less of an emphasis on financial education (although I think so many of us need better financial education) and so oftentimes these individuals find themselves in credit card and/or student loan debt. Finally, when it comes to finding a job, these individuals oftentimes find themselves without a network and networking skills that can help them get a high-paying job after college.

I believe that tutoring and mentoring programs have a duty to help all young people set themselves up well financially. I know many programs emphasize job-shadowing and network building, but I also believe we have a duty in helping educate our students financially as well. It's one thing to help our students go to college and find great jobs. It's another to help them actually spend money wisely so that they will be able to save it and invest it in their future.

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