This morning’s topic is an important one – the retirement savings gap between blacks and whites. What is the latest?
The news continues to be bad. According to an article in Forbes last week by Rodney Brooks, Black Americans continue to lag far behind whites when it comes to retirement savings. Data from 2013 – the most recent year available – stated that while the average white family had $130,000 in liquid retirement savings – six times more that the savings of the average Black family, which had just $19,000. Think about that.
What is driving this gap in retirement savings?
This gap can be traced back to the overall wealth gap between Blacks and whites. Saving for retirement is all about how much you can set aside over your lifetime. It is the result of years of contributions toward your retirement years – the total amount at the end of this cycle. When you look at total wealth for families, it becomes clear.
The difference between the average wealth of white families and Black families in 2013 was more than $500,000. In 1963, the gap was just $117,000. The reason for this is earnings. The income gap, on an hourly and annual basis, becomes the wealth gap over the course of our lives. In their 30s, white families have an average of $140,000 more in wealth than African-Americans. By the time we reach our 60s, that gap has expanded to nearly $1 million, or nearly 11 times as much as Black family. The reason for this comes down to earnings.
You mentioned the wage gap. Where does that stand right now?
It is bad and getting worse. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the hourly pay gap is the largest we have seen in 40 years. In 2015, whites earned an average of $25.22 an hour vs. $18.49 for Blacks. That is a 27 percent difference! Several factors contribute to it, but it is not based on skills or education. According to the Economic Policy Institute, declining unionization, the failure to raise the minimum wage and lax enforcement of anti-discrimination laws have been the main causes of the worsening racial wage gap.
Are there other factors that cause the wealth gap to bleed into the retirement savings gap?
Absolutely. It is not only the accumulation of wealth over a person’s lifetime, but also the generational amassing of wealth. Because Black Americans accumulate less wealth and have a lower homeownership rate that whites, they also pass less wealth down to the next generation. That also bleeds into retirement. Finally, African-Americans disproportionately work at jobs that do not offer employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k) or IRA plans. As such, they have a lower contribution rate, and are less likely to have access to matching retirement money than white americans.
Is there any way to address these gaps?
There are a few policy changes that could make a difference. Obviously, to close the gap between the current minimum wage and the actual living wage would be one of them, and increasing enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in employment would be another. A different approach would be making it easier for workers who don’t have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Interestingly, some states are making moves that will do just that, creating programs that allow people to set up accounts that can be linked to each employer they have over time with direct, automatic deposits, making contributions seamless. Additionally, initiatives like the MyRA program championed by President Obama, something we have talked about on this show, are also aimed at increasing access to retirement accounts.
Finally, the more we can increase the financial literacy of all Americans, but specifically among our community, the better. Providing advice and counseling on everything from retirement to student loans to budgeting practices will help to close the retirement gap, and the broader wealth gap, that we see today.
Mellody is President of Ariel investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.