As Nikole Hannah-Jones points out, wealth is freedom. “I don’t mean that in a capitalist way … it is the freedom to, if you need to go to the doctor, you can go to the doctor. You can have legal rights, but if you don’t have money in this country, you cannot exercise those rights … We have used the lack of wealth of Black Americans to actually maintain our racial caste system.”
Wells Fargo Economic Group recently released a special report examining Black economic progress despite substantial barriers over the past few centuries.
Some of the key findings highlighted that the average income in the Black and African American community rose 20% between 2010 and 2020, outpacing the national average growth rate of 15% over the same period, Black entrepreneurship grew nearly 11% between 2016 and 2019, with Black women leading the pack. Findings showed that about 35% of Black-owned businesses were owned by women as of 2019, which is 15 percentage points higher than the share of female-owned businesses in the overall U.S. economy. Additionally, a record share of Black women held board seats at S&P 500 companies in 2021. Although just 4% of these seats are occupied by Black women, the share rose by 25%, twice the rate of women overall.
Additionally, the report highlighted the state of work in the Black community as well.
The Black unemployment rate, which has historically exceeded the overall rate of joblessness, stood at 7.1% in December 2021, significantly higher than the overall nationwide rate of 3.9%. But the Black unemployment rate fell to a record low at the end of the last economic cycle, and if the current U.S. economic upswing remains intact over the next few years, as we expect it will, then the Black unemployment rate should decline further. It could potentially fall to a new low.
Although the findings struck a positive chord, they also didn’t gloss over some of the more somber data related to Black economic standing in the US:
Black and African American workers are currently over-represented in industries with below average earnings. The historical structural exclusion of the community from full engagement with the country’s economic, political and education institutions likely has played a major role in shaping this current employment distribution. But educational attainment is rising rapidly. The number of Black and African American individuals who have completed at least four years of college grew 41% over the past decade, compared to just 25% for the total population.