Amid Economic Uncertainty, Taking Stock of Personal Finance Chasms Across America

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There are many ways to crack the fissures of the American economy — the impacts are unfolding in real time. Take personal finance in this unpredictable climate for one. Peering into people’s financial accounts on the county level shows the degree to which communities of color lag in creating wealth. In particular, the 161 Hispanic Centers, with their young and growing populations, struggle here.

More than two-thirds of Americans report some form of financial investment for the future, according to Simmons Consumer Research. Across the American Communities Project’s 15 types, 69% say they hold investments. The common link stops there.

Beneath the surface appear obvious cleavages. Whiter, older, rural areas break away from the pack at considerably higher rates: In Aging Farmlands, 79% own investments; in Rural Middle America, 78% do. For these rural areas where the median household income is just below the national average, a mindset of frugality instilled in youth and deepened through experiencing reversals of fortune season to season may be driving these rates; small towns, too, have seen business dry up and people departing for places of greater opportunity.

Other predominately white suburban communities, the Exurbs and the Middle Suburbs, stand at 76%. Exurbs, on the far outskirts of cities, are full of high-earning professionals with the means to invest. Middle Suburbs, found across the Industrial Midwest, are still home to sizable populations of union workers with pensions.

Communities of color, meanwhile, are at the bottom of the pack: In Hispanic Centers, where the median household income is low at $45,800, just 55% hold investments. In addition to having lower incomes and younger, unestablished populations, Hispanic Centers confront the obstacles of documentation status and English literacy, including financial literacy.

For youth-populated Native American Lands, where 31% are under 18, as well as long established African American South counties, the investment figure dips just below the average to 67%; while Big Cities, the most populous, diverse community type with a highest degree of racial and ethnic segregation among the types, clock in at 61%.

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