“Your kids can’t go to school today, I need them to work the fields,” the land owner would tell my grandfather, so my mother and her eleven siblings would go off to pick cotton. My grandfather was a sharecropper. For the young folks, sharecropping is when a family lives on and works land owned by someone else. The tenants take care of the fields and get to keep a portion of the harvest. It was very prevalent in the south. The clothes on their backs was about all they owned. They had no socks and no shoes, their feet were as tough as leather. They had enough food to feed the family, barely, my grandparents made sure of that. This story is not unusual, I’m sure if you go back to the roots of your family tree, you have family members who lived a similar life. My mother and all her siblings went on leave the farm and use their God given abilities to build a life that allowed them to make it.
The black family has always found a way to survive trying times, and somehow, some way have joy doing it. Financially, this same truth applies, black people have turned less into more making one dollar stretch into ten. But, there is one thing the majority of black families haven’t figured out yet. How to turn that dollar into millions. Obviously there are thousands who did find a way, but African Americans at large are still struggling to escape poverty and build generational wealth.
According to a study performed in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 27% of all African Americans live below the poverty line, the highest percentage of any race in America. The U.S. poverty thresholds in 2014 were as follows, $11,670 for a one person household, $15,730 for two, $19,790 for three and $23,850 for a four person home. As a comparison, the national poverty rate was 15.5%.
The percentage of families in poverty was 22.9% among blacks and 11.3% nationwide during that same year. Regarding the youth, 45.8% of black children under the age of 6 live in poverty compared to 14.5% of white children according to the data.
What are some of the factors contributing to our high poverty rate? Statistics from The State of Working America show there are three major contributing factors. Income inequality, in 2010, the median black family made $39,715, which is 61% of what the median white family made in that same year. Family structure, a disproportionately large number of workers earning poverty-level wages are female, black, and 18-25 years old. The State of Working America noted 36% of blacks, and 38.1% of black women were employed by jobs paying at or below the poverty-level. Thirdly, the lack of educational attainment makes blacks more likely to live in poverty. From the National Center for Educational Statistics, as of 2015, the percentage of 25-29 year old blacks who had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher was 21%. For comparison, 43% of whites age 25-29 had received a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Let’s step back for a minute because that was a lot of numbers to digest. First, I want to state I am not attacking any race, sex or demographic. There is no group of people I have more respect for than single mothers. I could not imagine shouldering the burden they carry every day, and most of them do an excellent job. Single mothers have produced some of the most influential humans to walk the earth. Secondly, many of those statistics are tied to education. College isn’t for everyone. And a select group of people who did not obtain a college degree have produced some of the greatest inventions created by mankind. Some of our athletic heroes did not attend college, and have been successful, not only within their own sports but also within their communities acting as change agents. With that being said, the facts are the facts. Broken homes and lack of educational attainment, are factors that increase the likelihood individuals live a life of poverty.
This is where we come in. Previous generations did not have the opportunities we have today. I know America has her issues, this country has countless things it has yet to answer for. But one thing America deserves credit for is this, it is the land of opportunity. Today, we have the ability to pursue dreams and visions that our forefathers gave their lives for, and more blacks are taking advantage of it. From the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2015 87.7% of blacks age 25 and over had obtained a high school degree or greater, the highest percentage ever recorded. As of 2015, 22.9% of blacks age 25 and over had obtained a bachelor’s degree or greater, the highest percentage ever recorded. Fifty three percent more blacks obtained bachelor’s degrees in 2010 than in 2000. One hundred and nine percent more blacks obtained master’s degrees in 2010 than in 2000. African Americans are achieving a higher level of educational attainment than ever before.
With these advances and opportunities, why haven’t more blacks established generational wealth? As you can see from the statistics, there is no cut and dry answer to that question. We have covered multiple factors and only scratched the surface. Wealth isn't created instantaneously. If we’re being honest, blacks have only been truly “free” in America since the mid 1960’s when Jim Crow was abolished. That was only 50 years ago. Not even an entire lifetime for the average American. It takes generations to establish generational wealth. Expecting a race of people to build great wealth in a country they have only been free in for 50 years is like drafting a basketball player and expecting him to achieve Hall of Fame status by his third year in the league. A player needs time, development and skill to rise to that level.
But I am encouraged and I hope you are as well. Millennials are now the largest generation among the U.S. population. We have led a shift in the culture. We care not only about making money, but also about how our occupation is perceived by those outside our field. We desire to make an impact, build a legacy. We care about what other people think of us, which is often used to chastise our generation, but it actually a strength. Seeking financial advancement, but along with it purpose and fulfillment will help us build wealth for our families and enable us to strengthen communities. Entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators, influencers, we fill all roles. So stop telling me we ain’t never gonna have nothing. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I believe we are up to the task. As you can see, every year we make advances in key categories tied to wealth. I know within my circle of friends we are all “the first” at something in our careers. I’m sure it is the same with you.
Every time my mother and I discuss her upbringing she always tells me she wouldn’t trade it for anything, that she had a beautiful childhood, “We made the best of it,” she always reiterates to me.
Black people have always found a way endure. We’ve gotten through many tough era’s and we will get through this one as well. At the end of our days we will look back knowing we built a better tomorrow for our sons and daughters and found joy doing it, because that is what we do.