(WOMENSENEWS)–There’s a better than 50 percent chance a black woman will end up on the front of the $10 bill, according to a recent announcement from U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
Two frontrunners are Rosa Parks, a pioneer in civil rights activism, and Harriet Tubman, a force in the abolitionist movement to end slavery. If either winds up on the 10-spot by 2020 it will help salute the economic leadership of black women, which has gone unheralded for generations.
Given black women’s overall lack of wealth, it could also help more black women see that financial health is a critical part of their lives.
Black women need to seek out qualified financial mentors who understand their particular financial struggle. Seeing a face that looks a little bit like their own on the official currency just might help send that message.
For all women, the identification with money is important. A recent study from Ellevate Network shows that 26 percent of all women surveyed are not making enough money. Most women, or 86 percent, say their financial needs are not met by the financial services industry.
But it is clear that black women are hit much harder. The median wealth of black women is $5 compared to $42,600 for white women.
One of the reasons for that gap is that more than 50 percent of black women don’t participate in their employer-driven retirement plans; they will continue to live in poverty after they retire, depending entirely on Social Security.
Changing that means getting beyond a lot of highly negative history.
During slavery, black women were beaten, abused and raped by their owners. They had no economic power. In the early part of the 20th century, during Jim Crow, violence robbed black women of their confidence.
Nonetheless, during the 1960s era of civil rights activism, they fought alongside men for equal rights for education, an end to back door entrances, access to better jobs, better housing and voting rights.
But the huge expansion of U.S. prisons undermined civil rights progress. Between 1970 and 2005 the prison population grew eightfold, with black men fueling that growth. One in every 15 black men is incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
As black women saw their brothers and fathers run into troubles of various kinds, they often became the backbone of their families.
But as the sole provider in millions of families black women struggled with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and bore the weight of poverty. Women in black single-parent homes continue to be relegated to low-paying jobs in mostly female dominated occupations.
In 2014, 35 percent of black women and 26 percent of Hispanic women were employed in higher paying, management or professional jobs, compared to 43 percent of white women, according to the Center for American Progress. For working women in 2014, 57 percent of black women were clustered in two job categories: service and sales and office occupations.
Black women also face a higher rate of unemployment, representing about 13 percent of the female workforce in 2009 and, two years later, 42 percent of jobs lost by all women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Even though black women have made small strides in increasing economic security, the average black woman continues to live in poverty and wealth escapes her. (Please note wages are not the same as wealth.)
Black women have been holding up their share of the U.S. economy for generations. It is time to honor all of those women who contribute and give black women recognition of the country’s future, even it is just the face of a heroine on the $10 bill.
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