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Joint Center Releases New Data to Understand Financial Status and Aspirations of Black Americans 

WASHINGTON — Today, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released Pessimism and Hope: A Survey of the Financial Status and Aspirations of Black Americans, a report that examines the financial conditions and ambitions of Black Americans. The research, completed in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, took a community-centered approach to understanding the current financial situations, debt and credit, and financial aspirations and perceived barriers for Black Americans.

Based on past and ongoing work to expose disparities and promote equity, data shows that the structural barriers faced by Black Americans are destructive to the financial well-being of Black households. The Joint Center and NORC partnered to better understand these issues as Black communities work to achieve a full recovery from the national economic implosion caused by COVID-19. This survey report is the first to be published under the Data for Black America Project, a Joint Center research shop that analyzes the structural inequities facing Black communities and their responsiveness to various economic policy issues.

“This research is especially timely as Black Americans work to realize the full benefits of the current economic recovery,” said Jessica Fulton, vice president of Policy for the Joint Center. “By collecting and analyzing new data on Black Americans specifically, we gain insights into the economic well-being of Black communities — and, therefore, the combined national economy — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings will serve public and private sector decision makers committed to connecting more Americans to economic opportunities, especially those focused on financial well-being and wealth building.”

Few researchers have focused on understanding the unique financial circumstances, aspirations, and barriers that Black Americans face. This lack of research findings that are specific to the needs of Black Americans hinder the ability of legislators to enact policies that address those specific needs.

“It was critical to both the Joint Center and NORC that the content of the survey was reflective of the voices and concerns of Black Americans, so we took the time to ensure that input from the community was collected and reflected in a rigorous way,” said Vince Welch, associate director, Center on Equity Research at NORC. “This inclusive and equitable approach to the research led to higher quality and more actionable data for policymakers to consider.”

This report was supported by the Citi Foundation. The multi-modal study includes both qualitative and quantitative results from surveys and focus groups of over 1,500 Black people across the United States. 

“The Joint Center’s findings offer new insights on the challenges and opportunities facing Black households in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Philip Fitzgerald, senior program officer, Citi Foundation. “Through support for this research, we aim to help inform and catalyze an equitable national recovery by continuing to advance efforts to help close the racial wealth gap in the U.S.”

The major findings from Pessimism and Hope: A Survey of the Financial Status and Aspirations of Black Americans are broken down into three areas — current financial situation, debt and credit, and financial aspirations and perceived barriers.

Some of the major findings include:

Current Financial Situation 

  • Black Americans have widely varied views of their financial situations. About one in five Black Americans report that their financial situation is poor, about a third report that their financial situation is neither good nor bad, and the remaining 45 percent report that their financial situation is good. This is closely related to income and education; respondents earning more than $60,000 per year or those with college degrees are more likely to say that their financial situation is good. Just over a third of Black Americans (34 percent) report that “just getting by financially” describes their situation well, and nearly one in three (28 percent) say that it doesn’t describe their situation at all.

  • Black Americans are not seeing their finances improve in the current recovery. Most Black Americans’ financial situation has either gotten worse (30 percent) or stayed the same (44 percent) over the last year.

  • Black Americans remain optimistic about their financial futures, with two-thirds being somewhat or very optimistic about their financial futures. 

  • Medical costs are a significant barrier to proper medical care for some Black Americans. Around a quarter of Black Americans have skipped a medical test or treatment (22 percent), failed to fill a prescription (23 percent), or failed to get medical care for a condition (24 percent) because of cost.

Debt and Credit 

  • Black Americans have a wide variety of debt and most carry debt of some kind. More than half of Black Americans (57 percent) have credit card debt, about a third (32 percent) have student loan debt, and over a quarter (28 percent) have mortgage debt. Around a third (33 percent) of Black Americans report having more debt than is manageable.

  • Black Americans have a wide range of credit scores. Around three in 10 Black Americans (30 percent) report having a credit score that is good or very good, and around four in 10 (39 percent) report having a credit score that is bad or very bad. Credit scores vary substantially with income, with nearly half of Black Americans who make $60,000 or more annually report having a good or very good credit score; only 16 percent of Black Americans who make $30,000 or less per year report having good or very good credit scores.

Financial Aspirations and Perceived Barriers 

  • Most Black Americans’ financial aspirations revolve around relatively immediate goals. Eight in 10 Black adults (80 percent) view things like not having to worry about monthly bills, not living paycheck to paycheck, having enough savings to handle an emergency, and being debt-free as very important to their financial goals.

  • Black Americans are optimistic about their futures. Two-thirds of Black Americans (66 percent) say that they are at least somewhat confident that they will have enough money to take care of their basic expenses during their retirement, whereas 34 percent express that they are not very confident or not confident at all. Similarly, 60 percent of Black Americans report that they are at least somewhat confident that they are doing a good job financially preparing for their retirement.

  • Nearly four in 10 Black Americans (38 percent) are particularly concerned with the possibility of Social Security payments being cut back, which poses a major risk for many people’s retirement security.

  • The most frequently cited barriers to achieving financial aspirations are related to the current economy. High inflation, not having enough money to start investing, and high interest rates were the most frequently cited barriers.

Click here to read the full report.



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