But help was easier to give when the economy was booming and Ladson was bringing home $4,000 a month as a mechanic at Amtrak. Even an injury on the job turned into a blessing in disguise when she collected a $700,000 settlement that allowed her to build her dream home in Clinton and help her longtime partner start her own hair salon.
Then the recession hit, and fate twisted the other way. A slip on the stairs of her home has kept her out of work since the spring. The hair salon struggled to keep customers. Ladson was forced to sell her car and fell behind on her mortgage. Foreclosure notices began replacing dinner invitations.
And yet, like so many other black women, Ladson continues to shoulder the burden of supporting her extended family of siblings, cousins, nephews and grandkids.
Across the country, black women are bearing a heavier responsibility for family and friends than their white counterparts, even as they struggle to emerge from an economic downturn that has hit them harder.
A survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that black women have more trouble paying their bills or getting a loan than white women. And they are trying to regain their footing in a world where more than half feel as though they do not have the skills and education to compete for a job.
The Post-Kaiser poll of more than 800 black women is the most extensive exploration of the lives and views of African American women in decades. In nearly 20 extended interviews with women who participated in the survey, a picture of frustration and resilience emerged.
Nearly half of the women surveyed said they help out elderly relatives, and more than a third regularly assist friends or family with child care — outpacing white women in both cases.
That means the ongoing distress felt by black women can quickly ripple through their social networks. Black women may be the pillars of their communities, but the recession has left the foundation cracked.
“To depend on anybody, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just something I couldn’t think of,” Ladson said, tearing up. “I was sad that I couldn’t help anybody, but I was even sadder I couldn’t help myself.”
Responsibility to help family
Looking back, 57-year-old Ladson can see where things went wrong.
Her injury settlement enabled her to buy a home in the 1990s. But instead of paying off her mortgage, she participated in the boom in cheap loans in the years before the recession. In the black community in particular, fast and loose credit became widely available for purchases such as cars and homes, seemingly offering a pathway to the good life.
Besides, there were better things to do with the money, she thought at the time, such as investing in the overheated stock market and cruising to the Bahamas.