U.S. Retirement Crisis Hits Black Americans Hard

February 22, 2021

Kimberly Owens doesn’t know if retirement will ever be a reality for her. A well-educated project coordinator in her late 40s, she has pulled from her retirement funds for emergencies twice in 20 years. Her 401(k) balance is in the low-five figures.

“I’m going to be working until I am 75 at this rate,” said Ms. Owens, who works for the New Haven, Conn., campus of a medical-device company. ”I’m not anywhere close to where I thought I was going to be at this point in my life.”

Many American households aren’t prepared for retirement, but Black Americans like Ms. Owens are even further behind than whites, according to academic and government data. The recent economic turmoil is likely widening the disparity.

Many Black Americans are hampered in saving for retirement by such factors as less intergenerational wealth, more college debt, lower incomes and lower homeownership rates than white Americans, according to academic and government data.

Even before the pandemic hammered the economy, Black families on average had roughly one-sixth the savings set aside for retirement compared with white families, according to an analysis of government data by the Urban Institute think tank. That is $25,000 in retirement savings accounts for Black households as of 2016 versus $158,000 for white households. Hispanic households fared only slightly better than Black ones at $29,000.