What Does Five Dollars Mean to Black Women?

What can you buy for five dollars?  What if five dollars was all that stood between you and hunger and homelessness?   Five dollars is not a safety net; it’s barely a bag of chips.  Yet according to a study reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it is the median net worth of single Black women.

Single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600. That’s still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts, but married or cohabiting Black women are lower still, with a net worth of $31,500.

In other words, Black women continue to exist in a perilous economic state whether they are cohabitating or single. Instead of fixating on the marital status of Black women–a common media topic–we need to focus on the way that sexism and racism combine to form the basis of oppression.

Black men have a history of suggesting gender conformity, in the guise of racial uplift, that serves to oppress Black women. For example, comedian Steve Harvey wrote Act like a Lady and Think like a Man last year in the hopes of teaching Black women how to repair and hold onto relationships.  The book is dependent upon many essentialist notions regarding gender to sell its point.

Following in Harvey’s footsteps, Jimi Izrael, a columnist for The Root, released his book The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find a Good Black Man this February. At The Root, Izrael wrote the following:

Eligible Black men, we think, can have their pick of educated Black women (assuming they even date Black women), as if merely having a job, an education and a pulse makes a woman ‘wife material.’ While there may be a lot of women available to Black men, MOST are not women you would want to spend your life with. I’m twice divorced, currently single and not taking applications because no qualified applicants have come down the pike. They are mostly variations on a few themes.

Responding to the report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Black Lunatic had this to say:

There is a notation that the median income for a married woman, or co-habitating woman, is about $31,000, so that’s proof that stable relationships improve finances. All I can offer is the idea that first step has to be increasing the number of folks getting and staying married.

It is hardly surprising that Black men would use this study as yet another excuse to inform Black women that marriage is what’s best, when they have invested so much time and effort in publicly supporting the institution in their recent writings.  Of course, the fact that marriage increases the work load of women is not factored into their benevolent suggestions.  This is hardly an unbiased suggestion.  If we were to settle and be understanding, in the manner that Black men have suggested, we would be in an even more precarious position.

Black men and the mainstream media have been on a mission to inform Black women that our major concern is our personal relationships, or lack thereof. However, married or single, clearly Black women need to be concerned about the economic disparity we face. If during our peak earning potential years we seriously lag behind White men–the barometer by which success has traditionally been measured–it stands to reason that such disparity will carry into our senior years when we are far more vulnerable.

The high achieving Black woman has become the identity that has been much favored by the Black male patriarchy and the media; however, our labor is highly concentrated in low-wage work. According to the Fairness Initiative on Low-Wage Work, women make up 60 percent of the low wage workforce; however, African American women make up 35.8 percent of that figure, compared to 26.2 percent being White. Combine low wages with the responsibility of raising children and we can’t possibly be surprised that the economic future for Black women is as bleak as it is.

Marriage cannot be the solution for women because it is an institution based not on agency or empowerment but on oppression.  Even in its modern manifestation, where women are no longer legally considered to be the property of their husband and fathers, the division of labor insures that gender equality is still a dream.  Women perform most of the domestic chores, child-rearing and elder care, yet this institution is magically supposed to provide protection in the public sphere? It is specifically because work that is done within the home continues to be unpaid that women remain economically impoverished.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was suggested that Black women turn to the government to encourage real investment in our economic success.  We have proven through centuries of hard work and sacrifice that our contributions are essential to the success of the nation, and it is time for the government to offer some good-faith return. It is not a handout and not welfare, because without the unpaid labor of Black women the U.S. would not be the world power that it is. If we must gather on the steps of the capitol to make ourselves heard or write long entreaties in the cause of justice, no other objective should be allowed to supplant the drive for economic justice. And until Black women are able to achieve economic parity, we are not far removed from the plantation kitchen.

Learn more about this topic in this week’s How We’re Doing: Women and Wealth


  1. Though I wholeheartedly disagree on your opinion of marriage I do concur on your overall take on the matter; bottom line the answer to ending poverty for black women is not matrimony but better education and better compensation for that education and her work.

    • But, what if you obtain a better education and your still kept from entering your choosen career due to prejudice,racism, &/or discrimination?

  2. i’m not willing to give up on marriage, but i do agree that it should not be the sole focus for improving black women’s economic positions.
    another financial strain that we must consider is women who marry and then have to financially support their husbands during the marriage or after a divorce or women who stay in a bad marriage because they can’t afford to divorce.
    black men like izrael need to fairly note that ” having a job, an education and a pulse” doesn’t make a man husband material either.

  3. We really don’t want to look at it, but this is clear evidence of the racism, sexism and classism in our society. We must work to eliminate poverty, through education, better pay for the working poor, child care, unionizing and national health care. Not to mention getting men to participate equally in child rearing.

  4. Great post! I so agree that “we need to focus on the way that sexism and racism combine to form the basis of oppression” and I very much like how you bring marriage as an institution into this analysis. Too often, I think, we tend to sanctify marriage when we need to look at how it is a largely oppressive institution — esp for women – and, as you point out, for black women, doubly so.
    Thanks for posting this!

  5. The family unit is the cornerstone of any viable stable functioning society, and marriage is required to fulfill that legacy that was torn from people of color throughout the African Diaspora.
    Black woman have suffered from brutal racism and sexism in the past and to the present in the USA. But our strong Black woman have been our strongest links to maintaning some semblance of our basic family unit through the days of the Middle Passage, Slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Era, and in the Age of Obama.
    One of the ways for Black woman to compete on an eqaul footing economically with whites is to be better prepared than whites in every pahase of your professional development. That means like your Black male counter-part you have to work harder than what whites under like and similar conditions.
    It is imperative that you understand, and study your history in the correct historical context in order to pass on that knowledge, and learning to your mate and offsprings.
    You Black women are the heart and soul of our foundation.
    Continually assuring us of a great secure nation.
    You come in all colors Ebony,Chestnut, Tan, Brown, Light Tan, Beige, Red Bone, Copper, Dirty Yellow, Olive, High Yellow, Yellow, and even Pale White,
    There you sit with all your might,
    For you have been in the forefront in our stuggles for
    Liberation, Freedom,Justice, and the fight
    For all our civil and human rights.
    For you are the mother of the entire human race,
    Regardless of your condition of being enslaved, and continually raped,which
    Is still an International disgrace.
    When I see the present women of Athens,Berlin, London,Sydney, Tokoyo, Bombay, Seoul, Haifa, Caracas, Helsinki, Dar-es-Salaam, Port-of Spain, Rio, and Rome
    I see some of you in them
    For you can call the whole world your home
    And people from every nation could be your next to kin
    Hold your head my sister and stand tall
    Walk beside me before we all fall

    • The “strong black woman” needs to die! I am so sick and tired of hearing that phrase. It’s a weapon that has been used against us to deny us a full sense of our emotional lives and humanity.

  6. That inequality in America is outrageously great is no secret and obvious for seriously curious people.

    What exactly is your proposed public policy to equalize median net wealth of black women? I don’t think I can find one anywhere in your post. Or maybe you were just reminding us.

  7. i agree on the marriage thing. its a piece of paper that BINDS you to another human being.. which means: if you ever decide to leave him (or her). he (or she, goes both ways! and gay ways!) can deny signing another peice of paper that allows you to leave him (or her) (thats just one example there, im sure there might be some loop holes out there to get a divorce finalized if one party isnt agreeing to it)
    marriage is nice an' all, when you picutre the love, the dress, the food, the beautifully dressed kids, etc etc etc. BUT why cant all that still be there WITHOUT the marriage? or at the very least, show that married and committed ppl are EQUAL on any "important" issues. i have read a lot of things throughout the internet (that appear real..?) that show ppls passions and strong belief in marriage, that theres something wrong with you if you DONT want to get married– which, to me, is where the problem about it all starts. giving something too much importance- probably means its not that important.
    sure, love is good. partying with friends is good. raising children with mom and dad and family around is good..
    but cant we have all that without the forcing of marriage?
    i think each person in the entire world should all marry each other. we should all commit to the love, the respect, the shared daily duties of life and raising children. all treat each other with respect and promise to love and cherish and NEVER be violent or controlling. yes. itd be a nice world if we all got married to each other. then thatd be the end of it. no more marriage (lol, i do realize that running too far with things can sometimes upset ppl, if i do, im very sorry and only trying to make light)
    i dont think anyone should be EXPECTED to marry and no one should be frowned upon for not.
    and im not saying anyone is wrong for wanting to be married either– if thats your thing and it works for you, then sweet, spend your money on that day- if its what you want to prove your love. so be it. but dont judge your friends who dont want to get, or havent yet gotten, married.

    ps: i noticed in this that those white elite "men" always get to be the ones who we all compare our wages to. they are typically the groups who stem from the groups that controlled the invention of this "money".. if you go back far enough. money is totally a white mans thing… maybe theres another way? why does money have to be the driving force of a society? the barter system just seems so much more welcoming and utopian .. in a good way 😉

  8. Good Posting.I think he can do more and more with Five Dollars and i agree with Black men have a history of suggesting gender conformity.



  9. Could not finish article.


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by msmagazine: Five dollars ($5.00). That’s the median net worth of single Black women. The net worth of single White women? $42,600. http://bit.ly/dva9LF

  2. […] earns more money than they do. But economically viable partners are hard to find because racist and sexist social constraints interfere with black fiscal […]

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