Black Wealth: It Only Looks Like We Are Rich…

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( Travel through any metropolitan city like DC or Atlanta, and you are likely to see an assortment of luxury vehicles from Mercedes and BMWs to Bentleys and Maseratis most driven by African Americans.  Even in some of the most distressed urban neighborhoods it is not uncommon to see high end vehicles lining the streets. Catch us out on the town, and you will find us wearing the latest designer fashions with hair freshly styled even when we are sinking in debt.

To the casual observer one could draw the conclusion that African Americans are doing well. But how is this possible when, according to Money Coach Lynnette Khalfani-Cox the median net worth of Black households in 2009, was  $2,200 compared with a median net worth of $97,900 for White households.

How are we able to look so wealthy when the truth is of the 36 million African Americans, less than .01 percent or 112,000 of Black households in the U.S. have a net worth of $1 million or more. Even at $500,000 in net worth only 333,000 Black household fall into this range. Given these facts, not very many African Americans are truly wealthy even though we look like we are.

According to a report published by Target Market News of the total earning power of $836 Billion that Blacks earn. In 2009, Black households spent an estimated $507 billion in 27 product and service categories. That is an increase of 16.6% over the $435 billion spent in 2008. Most of what African Americans are spending their money on has no appreciable value.

Consider Michael, 44, he drives a brand new Range Rover, has a 5 bedroom house in the suburbs, and wears Hugo Boss suits to his job as a Purchasing Manager. Although he earns $87,000, Michael is just getting by. After he pays his $1,400 car payment, $1,700 mortgage and other expenses, Michael has no money left for savings or investments. From the outside looking in, Michael looks wealthy.  The reality is that Michael has less than $2,000 in savings and a negative net worth that includes over $50,000 he had to borrow to earn his graduate degree. Not to mention the decrease in value of the home he purchased right before the real estate downturn.

Michael’s story is not unique; he is like so many African Americans who have been seduced by the appearance of wealth. Many believe driving a luxury car, living in a sprawling home in the suburbs, and wearing designer clothes communicate to the world that they have “arrived.”

John and Valerie Hall have been trying to keep up with “the Joneses” since they got married in 2008. With a combined income of $165,000 annually, they appear to be living the “good life”: they live in a prestigious golf and country club community in Atlanta; he drives a 2010 Porsche Cayenne, and; she drives a 2010 Lexus I250c. From all external indications the Halls are living well, but the truth is that over eighty percent of their take home pay is spent on mortgage, car payments, credit cards, etc. They don’t have an emergency fund and are starting to feel the strain of their lavish spending.

Even those at the lower end of the economic scale are stretching their dollars to obtain the things that are symbolic of wealth.  Take Wanda, 47, who works in retail. Although she earns $11.00 an hour, she drives a 2003 528I BMW, and gets her hair professionally styled twice a month which consumes close to 40 percent of her income. For the past eighteen months she has been renting a room from a relative because she cannot afford her own place.

Looking wealthy and being wealthy are vastly different. Wealth is not the same as earning a high income. Income is what people earn from work, interest, dividends, rents or royalties paid from property. Wealth is the value of everything a person or family owns minus their debts. One of the theories about assets says: income feeds your stomach, but assets change your head.

When you are truly wealthy there is a certain confidence that you carry that is not dependent on what you drive or what you are wearing.

Frederick Douglas said, “If we remain poor and dependent, the riches of other men will not avail us. If we are ignorant, the intelligence of other men will do but little for us. If we are foolish, the wisdom of other men will not guide us. If we are wasteful of time and money, the economy of other men will only make our destitution the more disgraceful and hurtful.”

What must we do now?

  1. Recognize that debt is bondage and it robs our creativity and energy.
  2. Become conscious consumers and monitor where our money is going.
  3. Commit to saving and allow ourselves the benefit of having extra cash in our savings. This will make life much sweeter than having a new Louis Vuitton bag.
  4. Focus on living a more simple life rather than cluttering our lives with things. 
  5. Do not allow our physical possessions to define our self-worth.
  6. Change our behavior and resist the pressure of living a superficial life.

As we embrace this shift in behavior we will begin to stop looking wealthy and truly become wealthy.

Staff Writer; Harold Leffall

This talented brother is an Empowerment Specialist, Author, Speaker and Entrepreneur. For more info visit; Harold Leffall.