The economic twists and turns experienced over the last few years have underscored the pervasiveness of barriers to financial stability, security, and wealth all across the country. 

But for people of color, those barriers are even more prevalent — and even more difficult to overcome — due to centuries of systemic inequities that continue to drive the cycle of poor financial health. This is especially true for Black Americans, who, compared to other racial groups, face the largest wealth gap, score the lowest in measures of financial literacy, and represent a disproportionately high percentage of the growing number of Americans who are financially vulnerable. 

By the numbers

For Black Americans, systemic inequities drive poor outcomes at every stage of financial wellness:

Stability

  • Black Americans are 38 percent less likely to have positive cashflow than white Americans
  • Black students are more likely to take out student loans, borrow more, stay in debt longer, and struggle to keep up with monthly payments
  • Only 28 percent of Black adults say their financial situation allows them to enjoy life

Security

  • Compared to other racial groups, Black workers aged 51-64 are the least likely to hold a retirement savings account
  • At just $17,000, the median retirement savings balance held by Black members of the workforce is the lowest of any racial group
  • Only a third of Black adults have enough emergency savings to cover three months of expenses
  • The median amount of emergency savings held by Black families is just $2,100, whereas white families have a median emergency savings balance of $12,100

Wealth

  • Despite increases in Black wealth, the wealth gap between Black families and white families continues to grow each year; for every $100 in wealth held by white households, Black households hold only $15
  • Almost three-quarters of white families are homeowners in the US, compared to 45 percent of Black families; Black mortgage holders have $27,000 in home equity on average, while white mortgage holders have about $79,000
  • 8 in 10 Black adults say their top financial priorities are related to short-term goals rather than long-term goals like investing 

Impact to workplace outcomes

It’s well established that the consequences of poor financial health extend far beyond the wallet, including at work — and evidence suggests that the racial gap in financial health hurts workplace outcomes, too.

  • Financially insecure employees are twice as likely to search for a new job; Black Americans are more likely to change employers
  • Employees who feel good about their financial health are more engaged at work; 64 percent of Black adults rate their personal financial situation negatively
  • Employees with high amounts of student loan debt are more likely to prioritize higher pay over job satisfaction; the average student debt balance for Black college grads is $25,000 greater than that of white college grads

Strategies for narrowing the racial gap in financial wellness from within the workplace

Of course, achieving the ultimate goal of closing the racial gap in financial wellness will require widespread, systemic changes, including support from a policy perspective. But there are strategies HR leaders can employ to help narrow the gap from within the workplace — and lessen its impacts to business objectives. 

  • Track benefit adoption by race to identify shortcomings in the impact of financial wellness offerings. Analyzing the adoption of retirement benefits is a great place to start, as national averages show Black employees participate in employer-sponsored plans at lower rates than white employees.
  • Address racial disparities in compensation by adopting pay transparency practices, which 78 percent of Black jobseekers say is a top priority when evaluating a potential employer.
  • Partner with employee resource groups to drive benefit adoption and boost engagement. These groups are also an ideal channel for promoting financial literacy via tailored educational content and events.
  • Expand your benefit ecosystem to address every stage of financial wellness and empower employees to achieve short-term goals while simultaneously building towards long-term security and wealth. 

To help your organization implement these strategies, consider partners and providers such as:

  • Candidly, which delivers benefit solutions for student loan repayment, building emergency and retirement savings, and planning and paying for college
  • Alice, a commuter benefit platform for hourly, tipped-wage, and low-income workers.
  • Attune, which helps employers gain insight into their workforce’s financial health and track benefit impact
  • Benny, a prepaid benefit card solution that eliminates the need for reimbursements for qualified FSA, HSA, and QTA expenses
  • Canary, which enables employers to support workers experiencing a financial crisis by providing access to a third-party employee relief grant solution 
  • Commonwealth, which partners with employers to conduct research into the unique needs and goals of financially vulnerable employees
  • Guild, a career opportunity platform dedicated to breaking down barriers to economic mobility across the American workforce
  • Manifest, which provides a digital retirement account consolidation solution that helps reduce fees and grow savings
  • OfColor, a financial wellness platform built for workers of color