The pandemic is a constant reminder of the need for emergency savings – but underlying that reminder is the need for financial know-how to make the best decisions in a most challenging world. For the workers who need it most, however, the trick is getting them vital financial help and info. This article has morphed from Black History month to Women’s History in March keeping a spotlight on the low-income, hardworking women piecing together jobs (sometimes 2-3) and seriously in need of financial education. The reasons? They need financial savvy to navigate the complicated economy but especially to access the improved children and family benefits they hopefully will be eligible for when the final Stimulus Bill passes Congress later this week.
Statistically, women are more likely than men to care for children and aging parents. When employed, aside from the minimum-wage gap, the gender wage gap makes saving even more of a challenge, even more so for women of color. For every dollar white males earn, White women earn 82 cents, Black women – 63 cents, and Latinas – 55 cents. After a lifetime of hard work, this translates to nearly a third – 31% of older Black women and 43% of older Latinas living in poverty compared to 16% of older White women.
But real help is on the way with Stimulus and with the long-awaited expansion and improvements to two key tax credits – the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) that can lift millions of low-wage earners and their families out of poverty. The problem is that these benefits are not automatic and after they pass there’s the challenge and need for a huge education campaign to get the information out so families with low-incomes can actually benefit.
But there’s another bright side to what can happen if low-wage workers – say, people with less than a high school education, and at the bottom of the wealth distribution scale, participate in financial education seminars, their wealth increases by 27 percent. They learn about the importance of creating an emergency savings fund, for instance, and of striving to save for the long-haul to supplement their future Social Security benefits with other modest savings.
Educating these women unequivocally improves their financial futures. What’s more, we have learned a great deal about how to reach and educate these women. Specifically, we’ve learned there needs to be financial education funding for libraries and nonprofits as the ‘trusted messengers’ who are providing help for these women workers to become financially wiser.
For starters, successful community educators are likely to be female themselves. One excellent example, in the forefront is Vickie Elisa, Atlanta, Georgia, whose own story is compelling, and demonstrates why she has been able to reach so many women. A woman of color herself, struggling to overcome her own financial troubles over two decades ago, Vickie has gone on to educate thousands of women about improving their finances. She has worked with three U.S. Presidents toward this goal. Her grassroots financial education program for at-risk women, “Smart Women and Money,” was featured in 2015 as part of ‘Planning For Financial Security at Every Age’ with the Obama White House.
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Vickie and other volunteer financial educators like her have learned important truths about how to help women improve their financial lives but most important is Meet them where they live. After I first met Vickie, as President of the non-profit Mothers’ Voices Georgia, she helped get thousands of low-income women of color into attend WISER workshops about emergency savings, planning for the future, and the important role Social Security benefits play for women’s retirement. Eventually, Vickie led her own financial literacy workshops—at a large health care center and at large churches. There, financial literacy was just one topic — she educated at-risk women on how to make healthier lifestyle choices.
Low-income women—are often gig workers, people working two jobs but also at times out of the workforce to care for children or parents. How, or where else will they be able to get, or find, financial advice or other ways to improve their lives?
More work needs to be done to help these hardworking, under-resourced women succeed: both on the granular (individual, person-by-person) level, and on the policy level—raising the minimum wage and addressing predatory lending for starters. But many are undeniably better off than they would be, also thanks to many unheralded female financial educators like Vickie Elisa. What’s more, luckily, there has been a ripple effect in recent years, with women from the financial-advisor industry responding to this vast need, creating more financial literacy programs one community at a time to help at-risk women.