The Wealth Gap and our Children

The National Urban League is an organization that attempts to aid in raising issues that plague urban residents, most of whom are minorities.  Marc Morial the CEO of the National Urban League addressed a major issue of the wealth gap at the recent national conference held inBostonthis past July.  According to Mr. Morial, Blacks and Latinos have been especially hit hard by the economic meltdown.  According their study, gains made by these two groups over the last 30 years have been wiped out by the weakening economy.  Blacks and Latinos have a lower net worth than whites inAmerica.  Much of this had to do with the fact that Blacks and Latinos have most of their wealth tied up in their homes. When housing values decreased, the overall net worth of these groups did the same.  The net worth of Latino households decreased by 66 percent between 2005 and 2009.  Black households saw a decrease of 53 percent.  According to their study, Whites have an average of 20 times the net worth of Blacks, and 18 times that of Latinos.  If we continue down this path, our children will be at even a greater disadvantage than our grandparents were as far as wealth is concerned.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Being rich is not my ultimate goal in life.  I do however want my children to be enterprising, self sufficient individuals who are generous and capable of serving their communities.  I do believe that on some level, they can focus on others a lot better if they don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.  I do believe that if they have a cushion, they can focus on others more, and not be too fixated on money.  This led me to begin to think about my own money habits and how I can strengthen my children’s.

I began to think about my own personal wealth, and how I can make sure my children have good money sense.  Although I believe we have come a long way, it is still important as a parent of cocoa children that I do my best to insure I raise children who know how to handle their money.  I did not grow up learning how to save, and I suffered for many years learning how to fix my mistakes.  I don’t completely blame my mother for not teaching me, she had to survive as a single parent with 5 children.  I do however believe that if I don’t teach my children the basics of fiscal responsibility, they will learn the same poor skills I learned, and thus be at the mercy to the above statistics.

I don’t consider myself rich, but I realize that many of my past money sins continue to affect me.  First, I took out way too much debt while in college, and thus killed my credit score.  I have a few credit cards with low limits, and therefore I rely very heavily on my income.  Although I own a house, and own stock, just like many people, I am not sure how long we would survive if my husband lost his job, especially now that I am in school.

My 8 year old gets a biweekly allowance, and I do my best to personally discuss with him how he should divide his money.  I explain to him the importance of tithing, saving, and treating himself.  I realize each time, how cheap my son is.  If he wants a video game, he now says to my husband, that instead of getting it when it first comes out, he will wait awhile, and buy a used game.  He is beginning to get it, and I believe over time, he will have strong control over his assets.

Although I still struggle with my fiscal choices, I actively work on how I can help change the overall climate of wealth amongst African-Americans.  I talk to my friends, family, and acquaintances about how to make better choices.  I implore people to not do what I did, and before they spend money, think about the best way to manage it.  I believe that God will not give you more than you can manage, and if you cannot manage $25,000/year, you will not manage $100,000 any better.  I believe we have come far, but have a long way to go.  I am sure many of you who reading this are much better than money than I am, so none of this applies to you.  For anyone who is or was like me, I hope this makes you think more about your money habits and how to change them for the better, if not for your sake, for your children.

Kids and Money

A few years ago, while visiting the home of a friend, I noticed a book on her kitchen counter about raising kids without a sense of entitlement.

It made sense to me that this friend would have such a book. She and her husband, both professionals, are doing well financially. I didn’t think to copy down the name of the book, because I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in their situation. I was still suffering the financial constraints of the newly divorced. “My kids know we operate on a budget,” I said to myself – and by budget, I meant we generally were living paycheck to paycheck. It never dawned on me that my kids would see our situation as anything other than a struggle.

Fast forward five years. My oldest child, my 14-year-old daughter, is now a teen. Like many teens, her tastes exceed my budget. She wants to wear designer jeans. Shopping is a hobby or a fun pastime. She also loves good food (no Mickey Ds for this kid), concerts and Broadway shows.

Nothing wrong with any of that. I raised her to have good taste. Still, there are practical limits to how much of this I can fund. Continue reading “Kids and Money”

Hey Michigan: These Are Children

Are you: Homeless? An ex-con? Pregnant? A single mother? BLACK? POOR? In foster care? Well, then watch out – you are a prime target for being denigrated, disrespected, and dehumanized in Michigan.

Not only are homeless women being arrested and charged with larceny for enrolling their children in the wrong school district in Connecticut, but several states away in Michigan, single, pregnant, and Black teen moms have been arrested in Detroit for staging a sit-in in their school to protest the fact that it will be shut down at the end of the school year.

Sarah Ferguson Academy is one of the only schools in the country that educates pregnant teens and teen moms. This schools raises its own money through its agriculture program – a farm, in the middle of Detroit. 90% of its students go to college – any college, somewhere, anywhere, and get money to go there. This school makes sure that these children – because they are still children – are getting an education, learning how to be parents, making a better life for themselves and their kids.

But now that Michigan state has taken over Detroit – yes, they’ve taken over the entire city – a “dictator” has decided to close a bunch of schools, including this one, unless a charter organization agrees to take it on. And the charter can do with it whatever it wants, which means either way, this school will probably close. But these girls value their education SO MUCH that over Spring Break they organized a sit-in, and occupied their school to protest the dictator’s decision.

And what does the state do? Arrest them. (Please watch the video here. Watch the police officers manhandle pregnant teens and turn on their sirens to drown out their shouts.)


It’s not only in the schools. A state senator, in order to save money, recently introduced a proposal to restrict foster children in their apparel choices. For their clothing allowances, which nationally are only about $200 a YEAR, Sen. Bruce Casswell would propose that this money could only be spent in thrift stores.

Yes, you read that correctly. Foster children would only be allowed to purchase used clothing. Apparently since this Senator never had anything new as a child, neither should children who are not living with their biological parents and are in a limbo state of extremely stressful uncertainty.


Update: After the story went viral, the good Senator amended the proposal to say that the children could buy new clothes, but wanted to make sure the gift cards they received would only be used for clothing and shoes. Because of course, foster kids can’t be trusted to only by clothes. They might spend it on candy and soda.

I’m sorry, but Michigan is coming off like a state that hates children. Poor and/or black children to be specific. And it pisses me off. What about you?

What you can do:

Donate to cover the girls’ legal fees

Contact the good senator

Media Monday

Council on Contemporary Families Releases “Unconventional Wisdom” on Family Diversity

One of the most unconventional findings was that “the darker an African American or Latino student rated his own skin tone, the higher his academic performance, academic confidence, and social acceptance.” This relates directly to the discussion we were just having about colorism, and whether what the teenagers in the video were saying accurately reflected what they thought about skin color and beauty. I’m tempted to want to spin these results to so that they can co-exist with the teenagers reflections being accurate, but I can also see how these can represent conflicting findings.


Minority Children Four Times More Likely to Start Poor, Stay Poor

“In Singapore, the government deposits small amounts of money into an account for each child born, Shanks said. That money can be withdrawn to cover costs such as extra tutoring for children or higher education for young adults. Or it can sit, earn interest and become the sort of nest egg or emergency fund the child’s future family may need. As a result, almost all families in Singapore–regardless of income–own their own homes.”

Yet in this country we act as if people with assets – homes, stocks, etc. – aren’t doing the same thing for their children and grandchildren. When you start life off with a nest egg, even a modest one, the monetary laws of compound interest make it so that the money grows, without you doing a single solitary thing to earn it – no bootstrapping necessary. But for poor black children? We act like their situation actually has something to do with their or their parents’ character, not with historical, systematic denial of the opportunity to build wealth according to race.

“Right now, 12 percent of white children live in poverty compared to 33 percent of Latino kids and 36 percent of black children.” And you think we live in a post-racial world?


Racial Politics: The “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption

On a related note, over at LIE there is an article about money and black babies and adoption. Black babies usually “cost less” in private adoptions because there are more of them than white babies and they are harder to place than white babies. They are harder to place because there are more white adoptive parents than black adoptive parents, and the norm is to match babies within the race. I say this is related to the post above because, as one commenter says, perhaps much of why there are more black babies is due to the poverty that many black mothers find themselves in when it is time to give birth. In any case, transracial adoption is on the rise, for even at “rates” as low as $4,000 for a black baby, compared to nearly $40,000 for a white baby, getting a black baby is a deal. White adoptive parents come to “prefer” a black baby once they realize how much better the black baby fits into their budget. But its a secondary consideration; the White adoptive parents “settle” for the black baby, only after having taken the price of the child into account. Fucked up, right?

Too Rich for My Blood

Today I had to fill out a form for a grant for housing assistance. It’s for money from a fund established here at school for grad students who live on campus who have two or more kids. The grant is typically about $1,250 a quarter toward rent that runs $6,125 a quarter, a nice percentage. At the end of the application, it asks how much educational debt you have in total.

Black folk tend to feel that education is the way out. I had an almost full scholarship to Penn as an undergrad. It was full less the amount the government said your family could afford to pay, which in my case was $5,000 a year. So my student loan debt coming out was about $20,000 because, well, you know that the government has little idea of what people can really pay. And $20,000 for an Ivy-League degree really ain’t bad. At all. But then on some bad advice from said Ivy-League’s career services (I should sue them once I get my law degree), I got a Master’s from Penn, thinking it was my foot in to get a Ph.D. since I didn’t have a liberal arts background. Terminal masters degrees are often called cash cows, because you usually get little financial aid and the University makes a killing off of you. So after one year, my $20K debt became $82K. Yes, a $60K masters. I’m suing. Seriously.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because once I get accepted into the PhD program here, at Stanford, I realize that even between my husband’s salary and my PhD stipend, we can hardly afford to pay rent and buy food, let alone put the kids in day care. So here comes more loans. Year 1: $7,000. Year 2: $14,000. Year 3: the year I have to pay for law school. Guess how much? Really. Guess. UPWARDS (because my budget allows for childcare) of $50,000 (I’m actually embarrassed to say exactly how much upwards). For ONE miserable year of school.

So the total educational debt I have for 8 years of college and beyond is upwards of $150,000. And I plan on being not a high paid lawyer, but an academic. Did I make a tragic error of judgment along the way? Is it always true, like many of us, especially in the browner communities, believe, that educational debt is “good debt” that’s worth the investment?

Last week, an article was published in the NYTimes about a NYU college student who had a lot of student loan debt. It basically blamed her parent and the school for her even going to NYU “without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual tuition bill” because they had a “grim determination” to “do whatever they could to get [the student] into the best possible college.”

I feel like I have been doing that, doing whatever it takes to get into the best schools (hence the $60K masters degree), but perhaps at the cost of mortgaging my family’s future. But that’s because I’ve been taught to believe that I deserve the best, just like everyone else, despite money. But what’s going to happen if I come out, yes with a PhD and a law degree, but in an economic climate where the environment is screwed up and the stock market is tanking and there are hurricanes and earthquakes every other day and the world has basically gone to crap and nobody is hiring sociologists and legal academics?? And my kids are still going to need to go to good schools, and I’m still going to want them to play football (the world’s version, not the American kind), and take dance lessons, and of course, sing and play the piano. But the banks will most definitely still want their money back. They’ll call my house phone day and night and once I get that turned off they’ll call my cell phone and once I get that turned off they’ll find a way to stalk me on Facebook. That day is coming, I can smell it.

Is educational debt still always good debt? Do you, dear reader, feel as though all the education that you have and paid for (or are still paying for) has been worth it? Will you encourage your children to take out the loans to go to the school of their dreams? Or will you encourage them to be “practical”, turning away from the $50K a year schools in favor of a cheaper, but less prestigious school?

I still have about 4-5 years to go, meaning my debt will probably be around $200,000 by the time I’m done. I’m taking donations. For real. I’m not kidding.

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The Finest Things

Sacrifice. Life requires so much of it, especially when you are married, or otherwise partnered. Especially when you have children. Things don’t go smoothly unless you are willing to sacrifice something, be it something you wanted to do, or be, or have. And even if you are used to sacrifice, even if it’s been drilled in you from childhood and culturally because as women of color we are supposed to be long-suffering and give up everything for our men and our children, sometimes sacrificing sucks. Hard.

The second half of this year there are a lot of things that either my husband or I want to do. Combine that with things that we both want for the children, like swimming lessons and enrollment at an elite preschool, and you come up with an expensive docket. On a grad school budget. I’ve committed to one trip that’s a wedding for an old friend, and another that’s a wedding for a near and dear friend, but there are five others looming. One is a writing festival in Aspen that I’ve gotten a half scholarship to attend, but travel and lodging are not cheap. And it’s just for me – nothing in it for my husband or the kids. But the other five things are family things that aren’t especially important to me – weddings and reunions for friends of my husband, things that happen once in a lifetime. Things that you can’t just not go to when your husband, who never goes anywhere, who never spends money, really wants to go. And we can’t do it all.

But I want to go to Aspen.

I want to go like temper tantrum want to go. I want to shout and yell and lay on the floor and pound my fists and kick and scream until I’m hoarse. I want to wear everyone out so the universe finds a way to revolve itself around me to make what I want to do possible. I want the universe to just figure it out so money grows on trees, people get things based simply on how much they want them, most importantly I don’t have to sacrifice what I want. I want the universe to figure it out because sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten a raw deal and any bit of sunshine and happiness shouldn’t be denied to me when I can capture it just because I can’t afford it. It’s not fair.

But of course things don’t work that way. As one of my fellow law student colleagues said to me callously one day, life isn’t fair. Deal. I’ll have to take a big girl pill and suck it up and spread what little we have around and get a little bit of what I want so they, the people I love and want to see happy, can get what what they want, what they need. In the end, in lieu of a miracle, four days in Aspen will pale in comparison to seeing the joy on my husband’s face at seeing his friends married or celebrating his ten-year reunion, or knowing my children are being stimulated in a school to reach their highest potential, or are learning an essential skill like swimming that I still don’t have.

Everyone sacrifices something, sometime, for someone. They’ve sacrificed a lot for me to be here, doing this. I have expensive taste, but they – my husband, my children, my friends – are my finer things in life.