The study goes on to show that more than half of all working African Americans over the age of 15 earn below $35,000 per year. All the while, 10.8 percent of all whites earn more than $100,000 per year, while just 3.3 percent of black people have reached the mark.
Some have argued that much of the gap in pay is due to differences in educational achievement. Only 19.7 percent of African Americans have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 32.6 percent of whites.
Especially after writing my book, 'Black American Money,' I find myself increasingly interested in issues like this, but I never get to discuss them when I teach finance at Syracuse. This is primarily because very few of my students are black, and many of my colleagues don't seem to believe that racial inequality actually exists. Perhaps one day they will take the issue seriously. If you want my thoughts on the matter, here you go:
Education is the key to getting ahead economically in the United States. When you refuse to invest your time in education, you are begging for a life of poverty and missed opportunities. You are also giving away the ability to control your own destiny. By choosing to ignore the value of education as a critical part of our culture, some of "us" are working hard to remain part of the great American underclass. I am also hopeful that one day we will realize that allowing inner-city schools to remain so inadequately funded amounts to a blatant human rights violation. Our country should be ashamed of the way we allow so many young minds to go to waste.
Secondly, discrimination certainly plays a role. Many middle-class African Americans are as angry as those in the lower classes, after seeing that even when they play the game and become educated, they are still passed over for opportunities. One of the reasons I so vehemently opposed the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court is that she is an embodiment of many within academia and corporate America who claim that it's difficult to find qualified minorities, yet they find reasons to exclude every qualified minority who applies for the position. In effect, the marginalization of black professionals and the habit of excluding them from business opportunities often leads to African Americans having lower incomes, even when we are well-educated.
What's the solution? Black folks have to find ways to build wealth and own things. This is not just a matter of making money; it's also a matter of having power and control over our own outcomes. Black unemployment will always be higher than that of whites until African Americans create and fight for opportunities to own our own businesses. This is going to come through the creation of incentives through federal and state governments (which we fund with our tax dollars), as well as our community having the initiative to build and create sustainable institutions for ourselves.
One great example is here in Syracuse, where the National Action Network president, Walt Dixie, is working with community leaders to build a multimillion-dollar supermarket in one of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in the city. After fighting with local politicians and getting resistance from business owners who are accustomed to African Americans buying overpriced products from non-black people, Dixie is showing that strong, spirited leadership can create paths for people of color to control and manage the issues that affect their financial outcomes. I plan to work with Dixie to build strong institutions in urban America, and this is the kind of model that can be replicated throughout the country.
The bottom line is that power and prosperity go hand in hand. Those who win the game are usually the ones who control them.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.