These are tough
economic times, especially for African-Americans, for whom the unemployment rate is more than 10%. Alarmingly, rather than
belt-tightening, the response has been to spend more. In many poor neighborhoods, one is likely to notice satellite
dishes and expensive new cars. According to Target Market, a company that tracks black consumer spending, blacks spend
a significant amount of their income on depreciable products. In 2002, the year the economy nose-dived, we spent $22.9 billion
on clothes, $3.2 billion on electronics and $11.6 billion on furniture to put into homes that, in many cases, were rented.
Among our favorite
purchases are cars and liquor. Blacks make up only 12% of the U.S. population, yet account for 30% of the country's Scotch
consumption. Detroit, which is 80% black, is the world's No. 1 market for Cognac. So impressed was Lincoln with the $46.7
billion that blacks spent on cars that the automaker commissioned Sean P. Diddy Combs, the entertainment and fashion mogul,
to design a limited-edition Navigator replete with six plasma screens, three DVD players and a Sony PlayStation 2. The
only area where blacks seem to be cutting back on spending is books; total purchases have gone from a high of $356 million
in 2000 to $303 million in 2002. This shortsighted behavior, motivated by a desire for instant gratification and social acceptance,
comes at the expense of our future.
The National Urban
League's State of Black America 2004 report found that fewer than 50% of black families owned their homes compared with more
than 70% of whites. According to published reports, the Ariel Mutual Funds/Charles Schwab 2003 Black Investor Survey found
that when comparing households where blacks and whites had roughly the same household incomes, whites saved nearly 20% more
each month for retirement, and 30% of African-Americans earning $100,000 a year had less than $5,000 in retirement savings.
While 79% of whites invest in the stock market, only 61% of African-Americans do. Certainly, higher rates of unemployment,
income disparity and credit discrimination are financial impediments to the economic vitality of blacks, but so are our consumer
tastes. By finding the courage to change our spending habits, we might be surprised at how far the $631 billion we now earn
might take us.
We got to do better...