Category: Business Written by Charlene Crowell
(NNPA)—According to a new research report, America’s racial wealth gaps will persist until public policy reforms provide every family the opportunity to build wealth.
“Less than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation,” from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership project, analyzed data and trends from 1983-2010. Over these years, the average household income of Whites remained double that of either Black or Latino families.
But when wealth was considered, the amount of available assets remaining after all indebtedness was deducted, White families’ wealth grew six times that of either that for either Black or Latino families.
“When it comes to economic gaps between Whites and communities of color in the United States, income inequality tells part of the story. But let’s not forget about wealth. Wealth isn’t just money in the bank; its insurance against tough times, tuition to get a better education and a better job, savings to retire on and a springboard into the middle class. In short, wealth translates into opportunity.”
The report also found that although the Great Recession of (2007-2009) hit communities of color particularly hard, the type of financial losses varied. With Black unemployment double that of the rest of the nation, Black retirement assets fell by 35 percent during these years. This data suggests that lower-income Black families withdrew money from retirement savings following a job loss or other adverse events. For Latinos, the average retirement asset decline was 18 percent.
By contrast, the Great Recession years took half of Latino family home equity, compared to an average 25 percent for Black and White families. To better understand this lost wealth, it is relevant to note that in 2010 only half of Black and Latino families owned their homes, while 75 percent of Whites were homeowners.
With more assets and diversified income streams, White wealth declined 11 percent during the Great Recession. But Black wealth dropped 31 percent during these same years and Latino families dropped the greatest at 44 percent.
Yet despite these findings, it is equally true that many families of color still desire to own a home and their own piece of America. Their dreams may be deferred, but still remains strong. As the nation’s economy continues to struggle towards prosperity, tightened mortgage lending, higher FHA fees, and continued discussions of federally-mandated down payments do not bode well for more families of color reaching the American Dream.
For the Urban Institute, the answer to these growing and disturbing disparities is reconsidering public policies.
“Families of color were disproportionately affected by the recession. However, the fact that they were not on good wealth-building paths before this financial crisis calls into question whether a whole range of polices (from tax to safety net) have actually been helping minorities get ahead in the modern economy,” according to the study.
Contrasting programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as two social safety programs designed to provide basic essentials; the report noted how tax subsidies for homeownership and retirement policies actually help to build wealth.
“The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to support long-term asset development. But these asset-building subsidies primarily benefit high-income families, while low-income families receive next to nothing.”
The Urban Institute’s conclusions are strikingly similar to those reached earlier this year by the Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Policies.
“The evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life,” the Brandeis report stated.
Here’s hoping that those entrusted with policy decisions are listening.
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:51
Category: Business Written by Damon Carr
I recently received a phone call from a friend of mine. He was stressed out, confused and scared. He recently went through a divorce that resulted in him accumulating more than $60,000 in debts. As if the events leading up to the divorce wasn't overwhelming enough, he's now dealing with the mounting pressure of trying to make payments on this new debt in addition to pay the rest of his bills and expenses, eat and have a life.
The pressure was getting to him. Things were tight! He needed some wiggle room in his budget and he needed it fast. He thought he found the "magic pill" to his problem when he saw a commercial on television offering debt negotiation services. The pitch was, “Cut your debt in half! Pay off all your unsecured debt in under five years with minimum payments! Don't trash your credit report by filing bankruptcy! Allow our law firm who specializes in ‘Debt Settlement Negotiations’ to work on your behalf. Never deal with a creditor or collection company again!”
The 60-second commercial was still running when he picked up the phone and dialed in. The representative who answered the phone told him everything he wanted to hear. He was told that his $60,000 unsecured debt balance would be settled for approximately $42,000 in five years or less. He was told that his monthly payments on this debt would be $736 per month. He was currently paying approximately $1,364 per month. The idea of saving $628 per month and paying this debt off in five years had him salivating at the mouth. He was told that his credit would remain in good standing because a law firm was representing him.
He was on board immediately. He had them fax over the paper work. He signed the agreement and faxed it back to them along with a voided check so that they can do a direct debit from his checking account for $736 per month. Nonetheless, he had some suspicion. He decided to call me to see if he'd made a good decision.
When I learned that he was working with a debt negotiation company, I told him that he has to be careful for there are a lot of scam artists who pose as debt negotiation companies. They make claims that they can settle debt for you. They request an initial deposit of a couple of thousand dollars. After they receive the check, you never hear from them again. The hairs on his arms stood straight as he listened intensely to me. He shared the details of the program he signed up for. I told him that there were some legitimate debt negotiation companies out there, but he'll pay a stiff fee for their services and his credit will be trashed. I went on to share the details of what I was sure they did not tell him.
Credit Trashed—In order to get a settlement on your debt, you have to be severely behind on your account. As a result, they'll discourage you from making payments on your accounts. Instead, they'll ask that you send them a check every month. They will not use the money you're sending them to make payments on your debts. They'll set up a trust account on your behalf. When you have accumulated enough money in the trust account, they'll negotiate settlements on your debts one debt at a time. During this process, your credit report will report major delinquencies on the accounts you included in this plan, ultimately trashing your credit.
Fees, Fees and More Fees—You’ll pay a non-refundable retainer fee up to 10 percent of the balance of the account you included in this program. Since you have $60,000 in debt, your fee will be $6,000. You'll pay a monthly maintenance fee of approximately $65 per month or $780 per year for the privilege of them managing your trust account. You'll pay fees to them and your bank if a check you sent to them bounced. You'll pay an overnight fee or a wire fee when money is sent to a creditor to settle on an account. Worst of all, you'll pay a settlement fee of up to 33 percent on the portion of the debt they negotiated to be waived. In other words, if the balance on your debt is $1,200 and they negotiate a settlement for $600, they're going to charge you a fee of $198.
Cancellation of Debt Is a Taxable Event—The IRS considers any debt you owe that was cancelled or forgiven as taxable income unless an exception such as bankruptcy applies. In the year that a settlement is reach on your debt, both you and the IRS will receive a 1099-C, disclosing the amount of the debt that was cancelled or forgiven. You're required to include the amount as income on your tax return, potentially increasing your tax liability.
Once you factor in fees, taxes and the high interest rates you're likely to receive in the future because of having spotty credit, is there a benefit? You don't need to pay an attorney exorbitant fees to stop making payments on various credit cards, trash your credit, and negotiate settlements. Not that I recommend it, but anyone can pull that off. If there were a benefit to “Debt Negotiation Companies,” it would be the fact that they'll deal with debt collectors on your behalf. The fact remains that they can't guarantee you a settlement nor can they guarantee that the creditors won't take you to court.
(Mortgage and Money Coach Damon Carr is the owner of ACE Financial. Damon can be reached at 412-216-1016.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:50
Category: Business Written by Courier Newsroom
Women Breakfast Series
MAY 10—Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship will host its Women Business Leaders Breakfast Series from 7:30-9 a.m. at the James Laughlin Music Hall, Woodland Rd., Oakland. The topic is “The Business Food: Accessibility, Affordability and Capacity Building.” Jennifer Flanagan, Josephine Caminor Oria and Alice Julier will be the guest speakers. Attendees will learn about the different facets and movements involved in the food industry in Pittsburgh and get a feel for what it takes to be a food entrepreneur. Registration is required. For more information, call 412-365-1253.
MAY 10—Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center will host the 15th Annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Duquesne University, Duquesne Union, 600 Forbes Ave., Uptown. Attendees will learn how to maximize profits and minimize expenses, turn market opportunities into sales and tackle tough business challenges. The keynote speaker will be Will Knecht, president of Wendell August Forge. Registration is required. For more information, call 412-396-1633 or visit www.duq.edu/sbdc.
Equity and Inclusion
Growth & Profitability Workshop
Brand A Series
MAY 14—L. Denise Edwards of Sitara Social Marketing will host the Brand A Digital Brand Strategy Training Series from 2-4:30 p.m. at Umoja African Arts Company, 707 Penn Ave., Downtown. Tuesdays in May, Edwards will teach interested individuals how to create more brand awareness. The goal is to help more small businesses and brands meet the challenges associated with online branding and social marketing. For more information, visit www.sitaramarketing.con/blog.
Developing A Business Plan
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 10:16
Category: Business Written by Christian Morrow - Courier Staff Writer
YOU’RE WELCOME—Business Luncheon keynote speaker Dr. William Winkenwerder poses with a gift presented to him by African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doris Carson Williams and Board Chairman Sam Stephenson. (Photos by J.L. Martello.)
African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doris Carson Williams welcomed a packed ballroom of members, friends and partners to the annual Business Luncheon at the Omni William Penn with “cautious optimism” on economic prospects for the coming year.
“For small businesses, it’s still a mixed story,” she said. “Our membership is up, we’re seeing growth in every category, and businesses are finding our members. But small minority businesses are still struggling to meet their bottom lines.”
One of the businesses that is a success story, she noted, is KBK Enterprises, whose founder Keith B. Key grew up in the Hill District and who is back managing the redevelopment of Addison Terrace. His company is the chamber’s newest Chairman’s Circle member.
Williams also highlighted some of the chamber’s successful initiatives from the previous year including its Marcellus Shale forum, its diabetes series and its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh on the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
She then introduced Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who gave some brief congratulatory remarks before heading to another engagement. Following Rev. Kevin Cooper’s invocation and lunch, Williams introduced Highmark Inc. President and CEO Dr. William Winkenwerder.
He noted Williams’ apparent magic touch in that, though scheduled months ago, his appearance came two days after regulators approved Highmark’s ownership of the former West Penn Allegheny Health System.
Winkenwerder, a North Carolina native, has been a practicing physician, an entrepreneur, head of a health insurance trade group and U.S. assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
“The first thing I want to do is to say thank you to all the business leaders, policy makers, unions and supporters whose voices were heard in Harrisburg,” he said. “Choice in healthcare is very important. Affordable choices only come when strong entities can compete.”
He said the new regional company had been formed under Highmark Health will be called Allegheny Health Network and will operate as a nonprofit. Because though its health plans, vision plans, dental plans and even manufacturing, Highmark covers 34 million Americans in some fashion, the new network will bring healthcare delivery and financing together in a cost effective manner.
“We are a national company but we intend our flag to be planted here in Pittsburgh,” he said.
Winkenwerder noted that with the Affordable Healthcare Act set to be implemented in the fall--if all goes as planned--the new network would offer bronze, silver and gold insurance plans.
“While it may cover more people, it is driving costs even higher,” he said. “But we still have Community Blue. And while it offers a limited network and fewer choices, it has 2ª percent lower premiums.”
As for the “battle” between Highmark and UPMC, Winkenwerder said there needn’t be one.
“We want us to work together,” he said. “We have a big impact on the region. I think our members should be able to go to their facilities, and theirs to ours. We want to be part of the solution, and we look forward to working with all of you.”
Following his remarks, Williams and chamber Board Chairman Sam Stephenson gave him their traditional pin and cufflinks. Stephenson welcomed new members and thanked the chamber staff for an excellent job during the past year.
(Send comments to email@example.com.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 10:19
Category: Business Written by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I started last week by being traumatized by an ad released by Mountain Dew, which I referred to as “the most racist ad in history.” The commercial featured a battered White woman being intimidated by a police lineup full of Black men, along with a demonic negro goat making a series of ebonic threats. As the goat told the woman that he was going to “dew her up” (sounds like s-xual assault to me),I remember sitting at my computer with my eyes crinkled and my bottom lip hitting my keyboard. I couldn’t believe the company had released this ad to the public.
That’s when I wrote an article that apparently got the attention of White America. To be truthful, I write most of my content for the 600,000 people who follow Your Black World, and I don’t care much about what anyone else is thinking. Crossover appeal can be highly overrated, and often leads one to become to a watered down version of who they once were. The man who initially stood firm for black America is suddenly bought off to go campaigning for gay rights and immigration reform, while black families continue to be surrounded by joblessness, a lack of education, poverty, violence, workplace inequality and the prison industrial complex. Honestly, I’ve accepted the fact that standing up against racism is going to create a few enemies, so I am comfortable with white America not liking me very much.
A conversation I had the other day with the rapper Rhymefest out of Chicago reminded me of just how silly the Mountain Dew situation actually was, and how silly it ended. It all starts off with my writing an article about the company’s racist ad and their decision to sign Lil Wayne. Then it proceeds to the company removing the racist ad, after which, they choose to dump Lil Wayne. The finale is that Mountain Dew/Pepsico executives can sleep better at night firmly believing that they’ve fully alleviated “the negro problem” in their company (similar to how Adidas responded when Rev. Jesse Jackson and I spoke out about their “brilliant” shackle on the ankle sneakers that no one seemed to connect to slavery).
Not so fast.
Sometimes when we address the symptoms of a problem, we believe that we’ve actually addressed the problem. I can say, as a person who has taught in business schools for 20 years, that the decision to release one of the most disrespectful pieces of corporate trash in history was indicative of deeper problems with the Mountain Dew/Pepsico corporate infrastructure. Their shallow response is even more indicative of their way of thinking.
The fact that this ad was able to ease itself through the internal review process without so much as raising an eyebrow shows that there are few, if any, individuals in the company who are either capable of, or empowered to, express meaningful cross-cultural sensitivity. If my grandmother knew that the ad was unacceptable after the first ten seconds of seeing it, why weren’t all those Ivy League MBAs able to pick up on the same thing? Possibly because their Ivy League MBAs led them to believe that black people don’t really matter (Lil Wayne thought the same thing).
Here is my advice for Pepsico as they move forward, so as to avert another multi-million dollar tragedy.
I tried to reach out and give them this advice in person, but a series of non-returned phone calls reminded me again that perhaps they see me as the enemy. But then again, it might be the case that seeing your critic as an enemy means that you’re still in denial, like the alcoholic who gets angry at a family intervention.
But either way, here are some quick thoughts on Pepsico:
1) Pepsico MUST Adjust its corporate culture: The fact that Pepsico was sued for millions for racially-discriminating against its employees is a firm reminder that there is a problem within the company. Releasing this ridiculous ad shortly thereafter clearly implies that the issue has not been resolved. A lack of diversity in senior management could be a problem, or there could be no diversity in perspective. Black faces don’t save you if they either a) do not have an authentic and intelligent voice, or b) are afraid to use that voice. Nearly every black person I know saw the ad and immediately wanted to vomit, so I’m sure someone within the firm felt the same way.
2) The company must do more authentic outreach to the black community: With all the millions that Pepsico/Mountain Dew were willing to give Lil Wayne to buy more sizzurp, I am hopeful that they can use a fraction of those dollars to pay for scholarships, community centers and educational opportunities for impoverished communities. Putting money into the pocket of a hip-hop artist, the Tom Joyner Morning Show or your favorite civil rights leader is not the same as showing support for the African American community. If you’re going to use us for our consumer dollars, you should be investing in the people, not in artificial figureheads.
3) Replace Lil Wayne and Tyler the Creator with artists who are doing positive things: I felt bad that Tyler the Creator lost his contract, since he is not nearly as toxic as the worst artists out there. I can’t say I felt the same way about Lil Wayne, who refused to even apologize for his Emmett Till flap until it was too late. But I hope that as Pepsico decides how to replace the crater in its marketing plan created by Lil Wayne’s removal, they will look at some of the stronger black artists out there who don’t always get deals with companies like PepsiCo. Names like Common, Immortal Technique, Jasiri X or Vigalantee come to mind, and even my friend Rhymefest. These artists should, in turn, be asked to use their platforms to benefit the broader community, so that everyone in black America has a full incentive to “Do the Dew.”
Until corporations learn to implement serious and substantive change to their strategies, tragedies like this are going to continue to happen. Pepsico has learned time and time again, that racism doesn’t pay. But for some reason, they keep going right back to the well of corporate irresponsibility, driven by an insidious addiction to structural racism that plagues the very fabric of the American socioeconomic infrastructure. Like any addiction, withdrawal is not a comfortable process, and we all know that to overcome that which ails us, we can’t always look for the easy way out.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series called Commercialized Hip-Hop, the Gospel of Self-Destruction.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 May 2013 17:55
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