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.