By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
American minorities need to "strengthen their financial literacy," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told students and faculty at Atlanta's historically black Morehouse College yesterday.
On a day when President Obama delivered an Economic Crisis 101 lecture to students and faculty at Georgetown University, Bernanke was doing the same at the all-male school in Georgia.
Bernanke was asked about the wealth gap between American whites and blacks during an expansive question-and-answer session following his speech. Some of the questioners said they had postgraduate jobs lined up as investment bankers, others in finance at large corporations.
"It's absolutely right the difference between minority and white wealth is very significant, and part of that is related to income levels where whites have a higher average income," Bernanke said. "But even if you control for income level, you find minorities have gathered less wealth."
Part of the cause, he said, is a lack of "financial education."
"There needs to be a broader understanding in minority communities, which haven't had that much exposure, about saving and building a credit record and being part of the mainstream economy," Bernanke said.
Too many minorities don't have bank accounts, he said, and "borrow from payday lenders and cash checks at check-cashing services," which charge for their services.
"They would be better off in the mainstream banking system," Bernanke said. "So one thing that could help would be to try to strengthen the financial literacy and financial education" of U.S. minorities.
Bernanke said Morehouse President Robert Franklin told him that the recession has forced some students to drop out of school, a situation Bernanke called "an absolute tragedy."