Huffington Post, February 17, 2012
Recent reports show that African-American workers finally saw a significant drop in the unemployment rate last month from 15.8 percent in December to 13.6 percent in January. For African American men, the jobless rate fell from 17.1 percent to 13.6 percent and from 14.6 to 13.6 percent for African-American women, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
While this is great news, I wonder about how it will impact older African-American baby boomers like 68-year-old Lorna Livingston.
While the nation continues to inch its way out of our distressing economic crisis, Lorna still has good reason to be concerned about her future. Our looming retirement security crisis, disproportionally affects African Americans, an alarming number of whom are retiring in poverty after a lifetime of work.
Lorna, who was recently featured in an international news broadcast, started working as a home care professional in the 1960s. But last year, she began feeling "exceedingly anxious" because doesn't she know if she can retire the way she planned. Her best intentions to save and retire with dignity are no match for the retirement security crisis driven by the economic downturn, inadequacies in Social Security and personal savings, and the erosion of traditional pensions in the private sector.
African Americans have historically endured extreme disparities in wages, wealth, housing and healthcare. These differences have caused more than half of African-American retirees to be economically insecure says the Institute on Assets and Social Policy.
Lorna's younger coworkers are also less likely to be prepared for retirement. Less than half of African-American workers have individual retirement accounts. They are also less likely to work for employers that offer retirement savings plans, but those who have access to and participate in 401k plans contribute less than their White counterparts.
Minority families also continue to be less likely to have sufficient assets, such as home equity and long term investments, to support them through their expected lifetime. Only one in four African-American workers own stocks, bonds or mutual funds, compared to half of White American workers.
Lorna is one of those workers who tried meticulously to plan for her retirement. At a financial seminar in a church close to her Brooklyn home, she explained her predicament like this: "Now, this is maybe the first time in my career that... I'm not going to be able to have sufficient funds for me to live for at least the next 15 or more years."
Finding solutions to ensure retirement security for all is a racial, as well as, an economic justice imperative. Now more than ever, policy makers, advocacy groups, employers, and workers must come together to ensure that everyone is able to retire in dignity.
Otherwise, we will continue to fuel an ongoing cycle of retirement insecurity that will devastate America as seniors wrestle with poverty; adult children struggle to support their parents, and young workers watch their retirement options evaporate.
The unemployment rate is finally declining for African-American workers, but how will that help Lorna?