The COVID-19 recession demonstrates an axiom of economics. Black unemployment always exceeds the rate for whites, the spikes are higher in recessions, and, in a recovery, employment recovers more slowly.
A record number of Black Americans were employed in 2019. But when the economy seized up in the spring, their unemployment rate soared to 17 percent, before floating down to a still-high 12.1 percent in September. Meanwhile, the white unemployment rate dropped in half, to 7 percent.
The much higher peaks in the unemployment rate for Blacks than whites and the slower recovery are baked into the economy.
This phenomenon occurred during the “jobless recovery” from the 2001 downturn. When the economy had finally restored all of the jobs lost in that recession, the Black jobless rate remained stubbornly higher.
And after the 2008-2009 recession, as the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center accurately predicted at the time, Black unemployment hovered at “catastrophic levels” longer than the white rate did. This disparity is now the issue in the COVID-19 recession.
Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, a Boston College economist who writes a blog about inequality, gives three interrelated reasons for Black workers’ higher unemployment rates.
First, “The U.S. still has a tremendous amount of education inequality, and the unemployment rate is always higher for people with less education,” he wrote in an email. Despite the big strides by Black men and women to obtain college degrees, roughly 30 percent have degrees, compared with more than 40 percent of whites, he said.
Second, Black workers without degrees are vulnerable because they are more likely to earn an hourly wage. An hourly paycheck means that a company can cut costs by simply reducing or eliminating a worker’s hours. “It’s much easier to lay off hourly workers, whose employment is more flexible by nature, than salaried workers,” Sanzenbacher said. …Learn More
It’s not unusual for workers who grew up in lower-income households to help their parents out financially.
But a new study uncovers a twist in this familiar story: once the parents are old enough to collect Social Security, the money flowing from adult child to parent slows down. And when this occurs, the offspring are able to start saving money.
Social Security, by reducing disadvantaged parents’ reliance on their children, “may be able to interrupt the cycle of poverty between generations,” Howard University researcher Andria Smythe concluded from her analysis.
To chart changes over time in cash transfers within families, Smythe followed U.S. households’ finances between 1999 and 2017 using survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
She found that the financial support going to parents in the bottom half of the U.S. income distribution was substantial. These parents received about $8,000 from their offspring over time. In contrast, among the higher-income families, money consistently flowed in the opposite direction – from parent to child.
After the lower-income parents turned 62 and started their Social Security, the likelihood the adult children would continue to support them declined, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
This, in turn, had a positive effect on the adult children’s wealth. People who grew up in lower-income families saw the biggest bump in wealth, adding about $13,000 in the years after their parents turned 62.
Social Security benefits, Smythe concludes, “may contribute to wealth-building among the adult children’s generation.”
To read this study, authored by Andria Smythe, see “The Impact of Social Security Eligibility on Transfers to Elderly Parents and Wealth-building among Adult Children.” …Learn More
Social Security is a major source of income for most retirees. It is even more important to blacks and Hispanics in a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse.
Social Security is helping to even out the racial and ethnic inequities in income and wealth that exist in the working population and continue in old age, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers estimate how much Social Security reduces this inequality by comparing retirement wealth for white, black, and Hispanic-Americans.
Wealth is defined broadly to include obvious things like home equity and financial assets such as 401(k) retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts. In addition, the researchers converted the income that workers get from Social Security and defined benefit pensions into wealth by estimating the total value today of their future benefit checks.
The estimates of wealth, when Social Security is excluded, reveal enormous disparities. The typical white worker in his early- to mid-50s can expect to have about $177,000 in non-Social Security wealth in retirement, compared with just $24,000 for blacks – about a 7 to 1 ratio. Hispanics have $35,000 – or a 5 to 1 ratio.
These ratios improve dramatically, dropping to roughly 2 to 1 when Social Security is added in. The white worker has $378,000 in total wealth, compared with $173,000 for blacks and $186,000 for Hispanics.
Social Security’s progressive benefit formula reduces retirement inequality by replacing more of the income of lower-paid workers. The program also provides nearly universal coverage, whereas many workers do not have access to retirement plans at work. These features help black and Hispanic workers, who tend to have lower incomes and are also less likely to have retirement plans.
“Social Security is the most equal form of retirement wealth and the most important source for most minority households,” the researchers conclude. …Learn More
If the difference in men and women’s pay is a gap, then the wealth difference can only be described as a chasm.
Women earn 80 cents for each dollar a man earns. But a woman has 32 cents of net worth to a man’s dollar.
One byproduct of the #MeToo movement is the fresh light it has put on the age-old women’s issues of unequal professional status and pay. But Elena Chavez Quezada, senior director of the San Francisco Foundation, explains in this video that wealth – home equity and financial assets minus debts – provides a more accurate picture of financial stability over the long-term.
A 2018 report found that net worth for older women, adjusted for inflation, has actually declined over the past two decades.
“If we are going to build women’s economic security, we have to talk about income and wealth inequality,” said Quezada, whose foundation promotes economic security for women and minorities.
Of course, wealth can’t be separated from pay. Women are able to save less, because they earn less and are more likely to have part-time jobs. A smaller share of them have a retirement plan at work than men, and the typical female worker saves 6 percent of her pay, compared with 10 percent for men, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
Although single women have slightly higher rates of homeownership than single men, if a woman can’t afford as large a down payment as a man, she starts out with less home equity.
Older women of color saw the largest decline in their net worth, according to the 2018 report, which was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work and the non-profit Asset Funders Network. …Learn More
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