Saving for retirement is no easy feat. For people of color in the United States, it’s just another reminder of the yawning racial wealth gap.
Experts recommend individuals save 15% of their annual income to fund a viable retirement. With company pensions all but a distant memory for most Americans, the burden of saving and investing this figure is on individuals.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the retirement savings of more than 75% of Americans fall short of what’s needed, and more than one-fifth of Americans aren’t saving at all, according to data from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).
For Black Americans and other people of color, these hurdles are even higher. Institutionalized racism eats away at the earnings, savings, home values and overall wealth of Americans of color, which means severe financial insecurity in their retirement years.
What Is the Racial Retirement Wealth Gap?
The racial retirement gap refers to the economic inequalities Black Americans and other Americans of color face as they plan for retirement. This dimension of the larger racial wealth gap puts people of color at high risk of economic insecurity when they retire.
In 2016 (the latest data available), half of all U.S. households were at risk of falling short in retirement, according to the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI). The NRRI is a calculation from the Center of Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, and is based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Fifty-four percent of Black Americans, and 61% of Latinos, shared that risk—compared to 48% of whites.
You cannot simplify the problem by saying people of color don’t save enough for their golden years. Understanding the systemic racism faced by Americans of color throughout their working lives is crucial to solving the racial retirement gap.
Think of the racial retirement gap this way: Systemic racism has depressed each category that makes up the overall net worth of Black Americans—and overall net worth helps determine your level of retirement security. Here’s how Americans of color have fallen behind, from earning less than white Americans, to having significantly less home equity.
Black Americans Receive Lower Lifetime Earnings
Institutionalized racism means that employers get away with consistently paying Americans of color significantly less than their white counterparts.
Black workers made 14.9% less than their white counterparts in 2019, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Wage Report. This gap has grown significantly, up from 10.2% in 2002.
Obtaining an education—even in the case of advanced degrees—doesn’t close the wage gap, either. The EPI report found that white workers are paid more than Black and Hispanic workers at almost every education level. For example, white workers with a college education earn an average hourly wage of $35.90—Hispanic workers with the same education level earn $30.35 in comparable wages, and Black workers earn $27.81. EPI notes that Hispanic workers are consistently paid more than Black workers—Hispanic workers with the same education level earn $30.35 in comparable wages, and Black workers earn $27.81.
And while race is a big factor in wage inequality, gender exacerbates the gap further. The average woman in the U.S earned 81.6 cents to every dollar men earned in 2019. The gender wage gap is even wider for women of color. Black women in 2018 were paid 62% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid.