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Study on Savings By Blacks and Whites Reveals Shades of Gray

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By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, October 21, 2007

For 10 years, Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab have issued an annual report on the saving and investing habits of middle- and upper-income blacks.

The survey throws a spotlight on the progress of black money-management skills -- or lack of progress. It also compares the investing behavior of blacks and whites.

Like many others, I've often found reason to comment on the results of the surveys. But now I wonder about the value of comparing the two groups. What exactly do we learn that can help change decades of economic differences? Do these surveys just perpetuate the notion that blacks aren't taking care of business?

In a special "black paper" marking the 10th anniversary of their survey, Ariel and Schwab came to a sober conclusion. "For middle-class African-Americans," the report said, "the march toward financial security has been an uphill journey marked by half steps, pauses and, for some, retreat. . . . The results consistently show that blacks save less than whites of similar income levels and are less comfortable with stock investing, which impedes wealth-building across generations and contributes to an impending retirement crisis in the African-American community."

This year's Ariel-Schwab Black Investor Survey found that blacks had median investments of $48,000, compared with $100,000 for whites. The survey looks at blacks and whites who earn more than $50,000 annually.

When Schwab and the Chicago-based Ariel, a black-run mutual fund company, first teamed in 1998, 57 percent of blacks and 81 percent of whites said they owned individual stocks or stock mutual funds.

A decade later, that percentage still stands at 57 percent for blacks and has dropped to 76 percent for whites.

For the first time, Ariel and Schwab looked at middle- and upper-income black and white retirees. The survey found that retired blacks had a median invested savings of $73,000, compared with $210,000 for whites.

One question in the special report stopped me short.

The companies put it this way: "How can we foster a cultural shift toward wealth-building that will lead to greater economic opportunities for future generations of African-Americans?"

Really, is it true that culturally, blacks don't want to build wealth?

Is it a black thing not to believe in investing? Or might it be that their money is being used elsewhere, or that blacks choose other ways to generate income in retirement?


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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