Inflation Amplifies Systemic Inequality for These Black Families

Black families tell us what it's like to face rising costs on top of a history of financial discrimination.

Maleeka Hollaway with her daughter.
Maleeka Holloway with her daughter. . Photo: Maleeka Hollaway

The inflation rate in the US hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in June. While many headlines have centered around the rising costs of food, gas, and everyday living expenses for Americans, how inflation affects Black families has not been covered enough.

"I don't think I ever paid attention to the cost of everyday items until now," says Maleeka Hollaway, an entrepreneur and single mother to an eleven-year-old daughter.

"A gallon of milk in Atlanta is around $3.00, and premium gas is around $4.00. When I worked in California for two months this summer, a gallon of milk was close to $6.00, and premium gas was close to $7 a gallon. No matter the income and business owner bracket, I feel the difference as a parent. I have to plan to stick to my budget now more than I ever have and wait for the tide to roll in my favor."

NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health ran a poll about how inflation is affecting BlPOC households. More than half of Black and Latine respondents report the recent price increases have caused severe financial problems.

Financial stress can lead to mental health issues, contribute to chronic health problems, and is one of the leading causes of divorce. Couple financial stress with rising inflation, and systemic inequality, and it's clear how inflation is putting increased pressure on Black families.

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"Inflation has hit my family hard...Having a two-year-old son who eats like a teenager, we have noticed the price of groceries increasing significantly. Then, you add in the increase in gas prices over the summer and our electric bill that has almost doubled, and we feel the squeeze."

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More Black Families Are In Serious Financial Trouble

Food costs more, gas prices are higher, and the cost of everyday living expenses increases daily due to supply shortages. The things Black families need to live cost more while salaries are not growing simultaneously.

"Inflation has hit my family hard," says Curtis Washington, an entrepreneur, and father. "Having a two-year-old son who eats like a teenager, we have noticed the price of groceries increasing significantly. The price of a carton of eggs has nearly doubled. Milk, meat products, and vegetables have added $30 to $40 to our grocery bill. Then, you add in the increase in gas prices over the summer and our electric bill that has almost doubled, and we feel the squeeze."

The NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard poll shows that 55% of Black adults face serious financial problems—higher than any other race polled. Inflation and rising costs have depleted emergency funds, added medical debt, and are causing Black families to fall behind on their life goals.

Inflation Magnifies Years of Systematic Inequality

When there's not enough money to pay bills, it's not uncommon for people to pay for things using credit cards or get loans. For Black families, systematic inequality in our financial systems makes those options harder to obtain.

It's hard for Black families to secure loans, get credit cards, or use other means to pay their bills while the cost of everything is increasing. Inflation makes housing more expensive, and people of color have a higher burden of proof to secure cheaper apartments or houses.

Inflation hurts Black families more than any group because of a history of racial disparities in the US. Systematic inequality created a wealth gap before inflation, and now with the rising costs, that gap is widening.

"It isn't necessarily inflation that worries me as a parent, but other macroeconomics that causes inflation and the resulting consequences," says Ashley SA Jackson, an attorney, and mother. "It highlights the need for stable investment and savings vehicles for things like kids' college tuition and ensuring we have a sufficient emergency fund."

Chris Jones with his family.
Chris Jones with his family. Chris Jones

Inflation Means a Paycut and More Sacrifices

Wages have risen since 1980, but they are not keeping pace with inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that minimum wage workers have taken a 2% pay cut due to inflation.

"My kids want to play all of the same sports as their peers, but it's not feasible," says Chris Jones, a magazine editor and married father of three school-aged children.

"As prices continue to rise, we must be wise about spending. I've managed to navigate the surface-level difficulties of the current inflation for our family of five," says Jones. "What's been disheartening is the unexpected and questionable spikes in the cost of my electric, gas, and water bills. Those have caused me the greatest resentment. Their continued increases--some as high as 20% recently--do prohibit me from saving any money. It's challenging not to be able to budget, ever."

Black working families make less money, costs are higher, and it's harder to receive institutional assistance due to systematic inequality. They're being forced to make tough sacrifices on top of starting from a disadvantaged place. The bottom line is that Black families need more support.

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