Urban Wire How Policymakers Can Close the Wealth Gap for Black Women
Tianna Newton, Elise Colin
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A group of black women of different ages hugging outside.

In the US, Black women make 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men. They also face a wealth gap: by some estimates, Black women have approximately 90 percent less wealth than white men in the US. These disparities are driven by race- and gender-based discrimination in education, employment, housing, and health care that have limited Black women’s access to economic opportunity for centuries. 

In 2022, Goldman Sachs and the Urban Institute launched the One Million Black Women (OMBW) Research Partnership to develop and amplify research on ways to narrow the wealth and earnings gap for Black women. During the partnership’s second year, we invited six scholars of color from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and Predominantly White Institutions to investigate the barriers to building wealth Black women experience. Their research highlights the interconnected nature of the challenges faced by Black women and the need for nuanced, intersectional policy solutions to close the racial and gender wealth gap.

In December 2023, Goldman Sachs and Urban hosted a convening that brought together researchers, policymakers, community and economic development experts, advocates, and others to engage with these findings and identify strategies to improve the social and economic conditions of Black women. 

Drawing on the findings of the OMBW Research Partnership and the convening, we outline five ways policymakers can work toward narrowing the wealth gap for Black women.

  1. Make college more affordable. Education is an important tool for social mobility and workforce advancement. However, the rising cost of higher education has left Black women who pursue degrees with disproportionate amounts of student debt. Monthly student loan payments, coupled with lower wages, make it more difficult for Black women to save (PDF) and invest their money. To help Black women build wealth, policymakers could make college more affordable by lowering tuition at state schools and increasing federal and state student aid. With less student loan debt, Black women could put more of their income toward their day-to-day needs and long-term savings.  
  2. Ensure pay equity and support Black women entrepreneurs. Black women face both racial and gender discrimination in the workforce, making it difficult for them to earn fair wages and to get promoted. As a result, Black women are underrepresented in leadership roles in many professional occupations. Policies that require greater pay transparency and hold organizations accountable for how they treat, promote, and compensate Black women could help ensure Black women have the opportunity to receive higher wages and advance their careers. 

    Given the discrimination they face in the workplace, more Black women are transitioning to entrepreneurship, but many remain at their full-time job to fund their business. Grants and mentorship opportunities provided by the public and private sector could help more Black women entrepreneurs pursue their business ventures full time.

  3. Expand access to caregiving services and community supports. Black women, regardless of marital status, face disproportionate caregiving responsibilities as they are often either the sole or primary income earner in their householders. According to the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey, Black single mothers also have higher average annual child care costs compared with white single mothers, white single fathers, and Black single fathers. These disparities limit Black women’s ability to save and invest, making it more difficult to accumulate wealth. 

    Increasing access to universal child and elder care programs would directly support Black women’s well-being and long-term financial stability. Policies that help Black women afford rent, child care, education, and food would allow them to pursue higher-paying employment opportunities and increase their ability to afford basic expenses, save, and invest in assets.

  4. Make mortgages more accessible. In the US, homeownership is seen as a key wealth-building tool, yet Black women are significantly less likely than their white counterparts to be approved for a mortgage or own a home. A recent study of home mortgage approval rates among Black women in Mississippi found that Black women were most often denied a home mortgage loan because of their debt-to-income ratio and credit history. This suggests that increasing Black women’s income and decreasing their debt could help increase their access to homeownership. Federal and state governments could enact policies that make mortgage loan approval requirements more transparent and allow lenders to look at various sources of income. Policymakers could also consider increasing funding for programs that help people qualify for mortgages and establishing penalties for discriminatory lending practices.
  5. Expand access to affordable health care.Rising health care costs have made it difficult for many Americans to access medical care. Black women are especially affected, as they are less likely to have health insurance, more likely to have medical debt, and often need to travel farther for care. Black women are also disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension, because of generations of systemic racism. Forced to grappled with financial constraints, familial support expectations, racism and sexism in the workplace, and more recently, increased stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, Black women also experience disproportionate rates of mental health challenges compared with their white counterparts. Compounded with the wage disparities and discrimination Black women face in the workforce, disparities in health outcomes and health costs significantly affect Black women’s financial health, limit their economic mobility, and ultimately exacerbate the racial wealth gap.

    To support Black women’s physical, mental, and financial health, adequate funding for community-based organizations that provide familial supports and mental health services is needed. Policies that increase funding and coverage for mental health services could also help support Black women during times of crisis. Federal policymakers could consider using successful local organizations—such as the Sister Circle Program, which offers culturally responsive mental health counseling through a trauma-focused lens—as models to create and fund community-based mental health programs at scale.

Closing the wealth gap for Black women will require a comprehensive approach  

Race-conscious policies that don't account for gender are insufficient in improving wealth outcomes for Black women. When designing policies in education, employment, housing, or health care, policymakers should consider the compounding effects of both racism and gender discrimination. Policymakers should also collaborate with community organizations and members to develop support networks and make sustained investments that can help Black women build wealth. Doing so will not only improve the economic conditions of Black women but also foster more inclusive, thriving communities.

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Research Areas Race and equity
Tags Child care Economic well-being Employment discrimination Inequality and mobility Paying for college Race, gender, class, and ethnicity Racial and ethnic disparities Racial homeownership gap Racial inequities in economic mobility Racial inequities in employment Racial inequities in health Racial segregation Racial wealth gap Structural racism Wages and economic mobility Women and girls Black/African American communities
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research
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