Prof. Angela Simms on Best Cities for Black Women to Flourish Financially

Black women serve a critical role in the American economy, contributing $3.8 billion to the GDP annually. Often the breadwinners for their families, they have the highest labor force participation rate for women and make up 21% of all women-owned businesses.

Even with these significant contributions, Black women live at the intersection of multiple barriers and experience the compounded effects of racial and gender bias. This combination results in low-wage jobs and a significant wealth gap: Black women who work full-time, year-round earn 62 cents for every one dollar white men earn working full-time, year-round.

So, where can Black women feel supported and flourish financially?

When posed that question, Dr. Lori Martin, a professor of African and African American studies and sociology at Louisiana State University, had this to say: “A livable place for Black women is safe, and for women with children, it is home to schools where all students have access to an excellent education. It would also be diverse, with a visible and thriving black community, including black businesses.”

While the socioeconomic realities of our current time touch all corners of the country, there are pockets of the U.S. where the wealth gap narrows and Black women have more opportunities. MoneyGeek analyzed data on income, the cost of crime, homeownership and poverty levels from 200 cities across the United States to rank the best — and worst — cities for Black women to live.

The Best and Worst Cities for Black Women

MoneyGeek ranked 200 cities with populations greater than 65,000 from the best to the worst for Black women. The ranking includes analysis of income, poverty rate, homeownership, educational attainment, and health insurance gaps between Black women and the entire population nationally and locally. The size of the local Black population and the cost of crime in the area was included in the ranking to reflect the presence of Black community and safety, respectively. Southfield, a suburb of Detroit and New Rochelle, a New York City suburb, ranked highest in the analysis.

In contrast, Corpus Christi, Texas, ranked lowest for Black women. In Corpus Christi, Black women face high poverty rates in absolute and relative terms, associated low income rates, and have the worst rate of health insurance coverage for Black women between 18-64 of the cities analyzed. The analysis finds a trend common to Americans overall, in that cities that are best for Black women can be geographically close to some of the worst. The Miami / South Florida area has four cities that are ranked lowest for Black women and one of the best cities for Black Women in the top five.

Income disparity is a key measure of how well Black women are doing today. For each city in the analysis, we calculated the local Equal Pay Day, the day in the following year when Black women would make an equivalent amount as a white man, using the median income of Black women working full time and the median income of white men working full time in each locality. In Riverside, California, the median pay of Black women is higher than the median pay of white men. In Stamford, Connecticut, Black women make one-third of what white men do, meaning a Black woman would need to work until December 29th, 2022, to earn the equivalent of a white man’s 2020 pay. These data are presented in the full data set at the end of this analysis.

The 25 Best Cities for Black Women

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The 15 Worst Cities for Black Women

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The Economic Realities Black Women Face

Less access to economic opportunities puts Black women at a disadvantage in building wealth. The FDIC’s Survey of Household Use of Banking and Financial Services showed that 13.8% of Black households were unbanked versus 2.5% of white households. Unbanked households are credit invisible — that is, they don’t have a credit history and, therefore, can’t build credit. This makes it difficult to take advantage of credit cards to manage cash needs and mortgages to buy homes.

Blacks are twice as likely to use payday loans, which may be appealing as a temporary fix for cash-flow problems but make it challenging to grow financially. That’s because 69% of people who utilize payday loans do so to cover recurring expenses like credit card bills, rent and food. Recurrent use of these high-fee services can create a vicious cycle where people using payday loans are locked into a continual shortage of cash, in part due to high fees.
Black women also face health care disparities, experience higher rates of poverty and victimization from violence and lag behind in earnings and homeownership.

Expert Panel: Improving Livability for Black Women

Access to jobs, higher pay, health care and services that cater specifically to African Americans are some of the unique challenges Black women face when it comes to livability experiences, explains Kalinda Ukanwa, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business. MoneyGeek interviewed Dr. Ukanwa and other experts to elaborate on the unique challenges that Black women face and the solutions to help them. The views expressed are the opinions and insights of the individual contributors.

If economic policies were enacted to help Black women achieve more economically, what might they be? What might the positive and negative impacts be?

Kalinda Ukanwa, MBA, Ph.D.

Kalinda Ukanwa, MBA, Ph.D.:

I think a good starting place is an economic policy framework, called “Black Women Best,” proposed by Janelle Jones, the incoming chief economist for the Department of Labor in the Biden administration. This framework proposes enacting economic policies that target the group that often faces the most economic barriers in our society: Black women. The philosophy behind the framework is that policies that lift the economic boats of Black women are invariably also lifting the economic boats of everyone else who face fewer societal and economic barriers. These barriers are amplified by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

For such an approach to work, first, policymakers would need to systematically disaggregate data to better understand how policies differentially affect demographic groups. For example, current policies related to unemployment focus so much on minimizing and controlling the national average unemployment rate. However, the current unemployment rate for Black women is 8.9% versus 6.5% for the national average. Economic policies that strive to minimize the unemployment rate could be altered to target unemployment rates for each group instead of targeting just the national average. An example of a policy that could help Black women achieve more economically is providing financial help for childcare so that women can be in a position to take a job. Another potential policy that fits into the “Black Women Best” framework is providing relief from student debt, something that Black women over-index in. Student debt relief is something being actively debated within the Biden administration. Policies that provide increased access to quality health care can also help Black women achieve more economically.

What resources would you recommend to Black women trying to find a livable city?

Dr. Lori Latrice Martin, PhD

Dr. Lori Latrice Martin, PhD:

The best resource is likely other Black women. Black women may wish to reach out to other Black women and Black men to learn about their experiences. They may also wish to research reports generated by local governments and nonprofit organizations to assess current conditions and future plans.

What do you think are some of the unique challenges that affect Black women’s livability experiences?

Lyneisha Jackson, AICP

Lyneisha Jackson, AICP:

There are some that easily rise to the top, starting with income inequality, health care and safety. Statistically, Black women earn 62 cents to every dollar compared to white men for comparative work. This means fewer resources to put towards building wealth, owning a home, educating ourselves and our children and overall quality of life. When it comes to Black women’s health, we face significant risks due to disparities in the care we receive due to the implicit bias held by some health care professionals. As a result, our health outcomes do not fare as well as our counterparts. Safety is also of concern. Low-income Black women especially are often seen as easy targets. And reports to police are seldom taken as seriously because, again, due to discrimination and implicit bias, Black females are rarely seen as victims. Equitable income and improvements in health care and safety can significantly improve quality of life and livability, particularly for Black women.

What makes a “livable” place for Black women?

Lyneisha Jackson, AICP

Lyneisha Jackson, AICP:

Livable places for Black women include diverse populations and communities, where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) women are represented and hold positions of power. Having a diverse and progressive leadership that is working to dismantle embedded structural racism can improve livability experiences for everyone, especially for Black women. This can be realized in increased and equitable employment and career opportunities, access to capital to purchase a home or start a business, better health outcomes, opportunities for educational advancement, affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and an affordable overall cost of living.

Considering physical environmental factors, livable places for Black women include inclusive spaces where we feel comfortable socializing, gathering and networking. These include public spaces such as restaurants, open spaces, such as parks, and active spaces where there are festivals and cultural events that welcome and celebrate us.

If economic policies were enacted to help Black women achieve more economically, what might they be? What might the positive and negative impacts be?

Dr. Ijeoma Opara

Dr. Ijeoma Opara:

I remember when President Obama said, “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” I want to add that health and education are key indicators of how well a society treats its women because they are the main indicators that lead to acquiring wealth and overall being successful. When we talk about Black women, we know that there are disparities that impact us uniquely; therefore, there should be economic policies that are specifically designed by us and meant for us.

1. Cancel Student Loan Debt

First, Black women are one of, if not the most educated group in the United States, yet we still earn less than white women. Being among a highly educated group comes at a high price because Black women also have the highest student loan debt in the U.S. Cancelling student loan debt would be a major economic policy that can aid in Black women being able to earn more and acquire wealth without having to work multiple jobs to pay back high-interest student loans.

2. Grants for Entrepreneurship

Federal, state and local grants should be made available to support entrepreneurship and professional development for Black women. Black women experience an extreme amount of blatant and subtle racist and sexist attacks and are often not in positions where they can defend themselves. Entrepreneurship can lead to a path of true liberation; however, policies that can provide financial support to Black women to pursue such paths are essential.

3. Caregiver Financial Support Policies

Providing government-sponsored financial childcare grants and subsidies that support Black mothers will allow mothers and caregivers to retain employment without having to struggle to care for loved ones and pay out-of-pocket expenses on their own.

4. Guaranteed Paid Maternity Leave for Black Mothers

Black women have the highest rates of maternal mortality, regardless of socioeconomic status. Providing guaranteed maternity leave for all mothers, especially Black mothers, can be a key strategy to alleviating stressors that Black women may be exposed to that can have a direct effect on their physical health and also the health of their growing fetus.

5. Guaranteed Mental Health Access and Coverage for Black Women

Expanding mental health access makes it easier to find quality therapists that can serve Black women. This can help combat the effects of systemic racism and sexism that impact Black women daily in schools, the workplace and other areas of their lives.

6. Increased Funding for Health-Related Research and Intervention Programming for Black Women

Grants to support research and intervention programming for illnesses that disproportionately impact Black women, including cancer, HIV and pregnancy-related complications like preeclampsia and fibroids. All of these can have an impact on how much Black women can work, what kind of jobs they can retain and their performance at such jobs.

What are steps Black women can take to close their own personal gap?

Dr. Ijeoma Opara

Dr. Ijeoma Opara:

1. Hold Employers Accountable

It is important to note that the burden of closing the wage gap between Black women and other groups should not be placed on the shoulders of Black women alone. We, as a nation, must also inform employers to be aware of their biases and to realize the uncomfortable position that Black women are often nested in, which may prevent them from truly advocating for things that they deserve. Employers should also examine their own biases in determining salaries and benefits when recruiting Black women and be committed to closing the wage gap since they are in the positions to do so.

2. Job Negotiation Workshops and Programs for Black Women

It is also important for Black women to have access to negotiating workshops and business coaching programs that are designed to empower Black women to advocate for the pay and benefits that they deserve in the workplace. While many negotiation training workshops and programs may be expensive, this is where the government needs to intervene and provide funding to support participation in such programs. Negotiations can be very uncomfortable for women, especially Black women, because we have to carefully balance the stereotypes that are placed on us that label us as demanding, intimidating and aggressive. This balancing act can unconsciously prevent us from asking for things such as higher salaries, bonuses and other benefits.

What would you recommend to Black women trying to find a livable city?

Angela Simms

Angela Simms:

I think Black women should seek communities that will support them. Look for quality health care, and within that, get a sense of how many Black doctors are in the neighborhood and if they use best practices for racial competency in medicine. Pay attention to whether community institutions practice racial and cultural inclusion. Determine how many schools are stably and meaningfully integrated and if the area’s education system incorporates all aspects of African American history in core curriculums. Also, find out if there are thriving Black businesses and Black female-led churches. Churches with Black women at the helm often have a progressive tilt that champions women’s well-being.

Advocating for Economic Opportunities for Black Women

Even before the pandemic, Black women were underpaid nearly $50 billion in forfeited wages, the Economic Policy Institute reported. COVID-19 has only heightened how the racial/gender wage gap and unemployment have disproportionately affected Black women, as that group suffered the greatest job losses. But there are tools and resources that can provide Black women economic opportunities and empowerment. Dr. Ukanwa shares additional solutions.


Invest in education.

Research has already shown that degrees increase lifetime earnings, close some societal gaps and increase job security. But if degrees are not your path, it also means continuing to build that knowledge and expertise in something you can be the best at. Figure out your expertise and what you bring to the table.


After building your expertise in a field, build your reputation and personal brand.

With an excellent reputation and personal brand, people will start to seek you out rather than the other way around. This increases the worth of your expertise.


Find out what your expertise is worth.


Get into the habit of ownership.

Build your own equity, which decreases the dependence on someone else for your income. For example, this could be your own business, stocks or real estate.


To rank the Best Cities for Black Women, MoneyGeek analyzed data from the American Community Survey, MoneyGeek’s Safest Cities and Safest Small Cities and Towns studies, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. MoneyGeek started with over 600 places in America with populations of 65,000 or more. Places without granular data about Black women or lacking other data points for the analysis were removed to get to the final set of 200 cities.

The ranking of the Best Cities for Black Women was based on eight factors: safety, Black population, educational attainment, poverty rates, income, employment, health insurance and homeownership. Each factor was weighted equally. Each factor in the study was scaled to a score between 0 and 1. The factors were calculated as follows:

Safety (full weight): Safety was based on the per capita cost of crime calculated in MoneyGeek’s Safest Cities series. The cost of crime was logged to adjust the distribution.

Black Population (full weight): Representing an available community of Black individuals, the Black population was adjusted to a log scale. For communities with Black populations below 20,000 and representing less than 12% of the population, the score for this value was set to zero.

Educational Attainment (full weight): This metric equally comprises two metrics.

  • High School Diploma Gap (50%): the difference in percentage points of the rate of Black high school diploma achievement compared to the national rate of white high school diploma achievement.
  • Higher Education Diploma Gap (50%): the difference in percentage points of the rate of Black bachelor degree or greater educational attainment compared to the national rate of white bachelor degree or greater educational attainment.

Poverty Rate (full weight): The percentage point difference of the city’s rate of Black women earning at or above the poverty level and the rate of all other women living above the poverty level nationally.

Income (full weight): This factor equally comprises two metrics.

  • Local Income Gap (50%): the ratio of Black female median income as a percentage of the local median income of white males.
  • National Income Gap (50%): the ratio of Black female median income adjusted for purchasing power as a percentage of the national median income of white males.

Employment (full weight): The difference in percentage points between the Black female employment rate and the white male employment rate in the locality.

Health Insurance (full weight): The difference in percentage points between the rate of Black women ages 18-64 that have health insurance and the rate of health insurance for all other races nationally.

Black Female Homeownership (full weight): This factor comprises three metrics.

  • Local Owner-Occupied Gap (25%): the difference between the Black household owner occupation rate and the owner occupation rate of all other races in the locality.
  • National Owner-Occupied Gap (25%): the difference between the Black household owner occupation rate in the locality and the owner occupation rate of all other races nationally.
  • Black Female Income to Home Value (50%): the ratio of Black alone female median income to local median home value.

Full Data Set

The data points presented are defined as follows:

  • Rank: rank in the overall analysis with the lower the rank indicating a higher overall score.
  • Final Score: This is the weighted score incorporating the factors defined in the study Methodology.
  • Black Population: The size of the Black population.
  • Median Black Woman Adjusted Income: The median income for Black women in the city adjusted for purchasing power.
  • Cost of Crime per Capita: The societal costs of crime on a per capita basis as described in the Methodology.
  • % Black Women Above Poverty Level: The percentage of the Black female population at or above the poverty level.
  • Local Black Women’s Equal Pay Day: Calculated as the percentage greater the median full-time white male income in the locality than the median full-time Black female income. It is assumed that the income ratio calculated is the same in 2020 as the 2019 data set shows.
  • Black Women Homeownership Score: This is the Black Female Homeownership factor defined in the Methodology.

About the Author

Erin Perkins is a longtime writer and editor who lives in charming North Carolina. She loves simplifying complex issues into easy-to-read stories that empower readers.

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