Today is Juneteenth which “marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery.” Source. Thus, Juneteenth is celebrated as an annual holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S. It is notable that June 19, 1865 was about two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclimation; the delay was largely due to there being no Union forces in Texas until then to inform and enforce the Proclimation.
Even though Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday in 47 of the 50 states (N.D. S.D. and Hawaii are the exceptions), I had never heard of Juneteenth until recently. Which I believe is symptomatic of the issues African Americans face — the history of slavery and inequality is usually not taught in schools. Here’s a good article on this topic: From Juneteenth to the Tulsa massacre: What isn’t taught in classrooms has a profound impact. Another good article that hits this topic was just published by my friend Orv Kimbrough: Commentary: Juneteenth – What it means and what you can do.
Changing gears – A few days ago I watched an interview of Penny Pennington, the managing partner of Edward Jones. She shared a story about talking with an African American Edward Jones advisor who said to her “Penny we talk a lot about wealth transfer . . . and how the advisor can help clients do that effectively . . . what you really need to realize is that there aren’t as many folks that look like me – an African American – that have the opportunity to pass wealth to the next generation of family.” Penny highlighted that this is a big issue in America. So true. Here are some sobering facts about the economic inequality faced by many Black families from a report from Duke University:
- Black households hold less than seven cents on the dollar of wealth compared to white households.
- The white household living near the poverty line typically has about $18,000 in wealth, while black households in similar economic straits typically have a median wealth near zero. This means, in turn, that many black families have a negative net worth.
- Black households constitute less than 2 percent of those in the top one percent of the nation’s wealth distribution; white households constitute more than 96 percent of the wealthiest Americans.
- Blacks, while constituting just under thirteen percent of the nation’s population, collectively own less than three percent of the nation’s total wealth.
The socioeconomic gap that exists between White and Black households leads to inequality in many facets of life. Having a low level of assets usually means not living in an area with high performing public schools, it can mean not being able to access higher education, it can lead to poor health due to not being able to afford nutritious food and access medical care. Not having financial resources can be devastating, especially during economic downturns that we are experiencing. As pointed out in the Duke study:
[W]ealth begets more wealth. Higher levels of wealth enable greater access to more favorable terms for credit. Wealth provides individuals and families with financial agency and choice; it provides economic security to take risks and shields against the risk of economic loss. Basically, wealth is cumulative. It provides people with the necessary capital to secure finance and purchase an appreciating asset, which in turn, will generate more and more wealth (Hamilton, 2017). Literally, it takes wealth to make wealth, while blacks largely have been excluded from intergenerational access to capital and finance.
The reasons for the economic disparity among races is complex and without easy solutions. I recommend reading the Duke study on this topic. The first step, however, is awareness of the magnitude and importance of the wealth gap that many Black families experience.