Brief Pathways to Upward Economic Mobility and Wealth Building for Black Women
Six Policy Areas and Recommendations for Federal Policy Action
LesLeigh D. Ford, Claire Cusella, Ofronama Biu, Faith Mitchell, Marokey Sawo, Michael Neal
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Despite their essential role in the US workforce, Black women continue to face significant racial and gender-based disparities in wages, retirement savings, and student loan debt that limit their ability to build wealth.

This brief explores how interventions in six policy areas—workforce, retirement, student debt, homeownership, entrepreneurship and access to capital, and health care—can catalyze and sustain upward economic progress for Black women.

Why this matters

Historical and present-day racism and gender-based discrimination have limited Black women’s ability to build wealth. Today, Black women hold 90 percent less wealth than white men and with a bachelor’s degree have less wealth than white women with or without a bachelor’s degree. These gaps not only negatively affect Black women’s ability to weather unexpected financial setbacks, but their health and overall quality of life.

What we found

Strengthening Black women’s upward mobility will require a comprehensive approach that addresses racism, gender discrimination, and the interconnected nature of the barriers Black women face.

To boost Black women’s economic security and ability to build wealth, federal policymakers could:

  • Narrow the racial and gender wage gap and protect against discriminatory employment practices—Enact stronger pay equity and salary transparency laws, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening unions, and directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to conduct pro-active audits.
  • Reduce poverty and strengthen financial security—Establish federally-guaranteed parental leave, create a universal basic income program for people with low incomes, and expand access to Social Security programs to better reflect the needs of workers with low incomes, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities.
  • Provide guaranteed retirement accounts to people who work for employers that do not offer a retirement plan.
  • Mitigate future student debt and provide student debt relief by enabling early life wealth building, forgiving student loans, and reducing interest rates—Reduce Black women’s disproportionate student debt burden by improving the quality of student loan repayment programs, investing more in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and providing grants that help with nontuition expenses could help more Black women afford college and build wealth after they graduate.
  • Help more Black women build wealth through homeownership by reducing mortgage rates, expanding access to down payment assistance, and increasing the supply of affordable housing—Address predatory inclusion by increasing federal oversight of the property valuation system and enforcement of fair lending laws.
  • Expand access to capital—Help Black women entrepreneurs create wealth by investing more in community development financial institutions and increasing up-take in existing Treasury, Small Business Administration, and Special Purpose Credit programs. Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs but are underserved by traditional financial institutions.
  • Reduce health care costs, expand access to affordable health care, and relieve medical debt—Establish a universal health care program, creating medical debt cancellation programs, and incentivizing states to expand Medicaid would help improve health outcomes for Black women and support their financial well-being.
  • Establish federal paid family, medical, and parental leave to alleviate the financial strain Black women experience because of unpaid caregiving—Expand access to digital behavioral and mental health services and increase funding for federal programs that use culturally relevant methods to address the overlapping structural racism and sexism that Black women experience.

How we did it

To identify policy areas and recommendations, we reviewed existing research on Black women’s experiences in the labor market and analyzed the results of the 2023 National Survey of US Adults. We also conducted eight focus groups with 28 Black women from diverse backgrounds and convened an expert roundtable to discuss policy solutions to eliminate barriers and identify proactive policy solutions to support to economic mobility among Black women. 

Research Areas Economic mobility and inequality Race and equity Wealth and financial well-being Workforce Aging and retirement
Tags Asset and debts Economic well-being Employment Inequality and mobility Income and wealth distribution Racial wealth gap
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis