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Columbus Report Finds One-Third Of Black And Hispanic Households Have Zero Net Wealth

Cars are absent from 3rd Street in downtown Columbus on May 6, 2020, in the middle of Ohio's stay-at-home order.
David Holm
Cars are absent from 3rd Street in downtown Columbus on May 6, 2020, in the middle of Ohio's stay-at-home order.

According to a Financial Empowerment Roadmap released by the city of Columbus, residents of color are in greater debt and have less wealth than the city's white residents.

Released Wednesday, the city's report is focused on helping tackle wealth disparities found along racial and gender lines. It's supported by a $20,000 grant from the Cities For Financial Empowerment fund, and the city plans to use research from Ohio State's Kirwin Institute to better allocate resources.

The report found that the median household income for Black households in Columbus is $35,569, which is 40% less than that of white households. Nearly 40% of Black workers make just $15,000 or less a year, compared to 14% of white workers.

Black residents are also in greater debt. Nearly 60% of communities of color have some sort of delinquent debt – debt on which payments have been missed. The percentage for white people is nearly half that.

Over time, this adds up to significant disparities in net wealth. In Columbus, 33% of Black households and 31% of Hispanic households have zero net wealth, whereas only 17% of white households have zero net wealth.

The report also found significant gender gaps. Women are currently faring worse with job losses than men, which Columbus Council member Elizabeth Brown says is something that makes COVID-19 unique.

“This is the first time that more women have lost more jobs than men,” Brown explains. “Women were hit first in this pandemic due to the industry sectors that were compromised, and they were hit worst.”

Brown referred to an article from Forbes that compares women’s job losses to men’s job losses in past economic recessions.

According to the city’s data, Black women are more likely than any other group to have attended some college or gotten an Associate’s degree. Despite their education attainment, Black women are still the most likely to live in poverty, making up 24% of Columbus' poor residents.

“Black and Latinx women have seen the worst unemployment rates of all groups of people,” Brown says. “All the while, serving this key responsibility of both breadwinning and caregiving in their homes.”

A Slate Of Reforms

Through the Financial Empowerment Roadmap, the city wants to create programs that tackle the root of these disparities.

“Financial security is achieved through a host of resources: housing, employment, transportation, all of these are crucial pillars,” Brown says. “But under it all, financial empowerment is the bedrock that supports everything else.”

Mayor Andrew Ginther says they also wants to add eviction concerns to their plan.

“We’ll add eviction reform, I just made a note on my copy here, we can add eviction reform to our financial empowerment timeline for enacting change,” Ginther says. “Because we know, just in this community last year, 16,000 evictions took place, displacing not just individuals but often families. And it disproportionately affects women of color.”

In fact, Columbus actually had 18,000 evictions last year, one of the highest rates in the country. The city last week won a court battle that prevents the Franklin County Municipal Court from allowing evictions without the landlord appearing in court.

Next, the city intends to launch an initiative to expand access to banking, develop a financial justice platform to reform municipal fees and fines, and create a program that addresses emergency car repairs. There are no specific dates for the rollout of these initiatives.

Columbus has already launched a program called Financial Navigators, a hotline where city residents can call trained advisors to chat one-on-one about money management. Residents can call 211 to reach a Navigator, who will help connect them with the network of already available financial and social resources in the city.

Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund managing director Amelia Erwitt says the organization has helped establish similar programs across the country.

“It’s a city-run, entirely free professional one-on-one financial counseling and coaching program that’s integrated with city services,” Erwitt says. “We’ve been working on this initiative for over 12 years, starting with the city of New York and replicated it in multiple cities across the country.”

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.