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Last week I was asked, as commerce director for the City of Philadelphia, to write an article on Black wealth. Specifically, “how did we get here, and where do we go?” That’s a pretty big assignment.

Should I talk about slavery, and how it created a culture and habits that we continue to this day? Should I talk about “Black Wall Street,” and all the Black businesspeople who became wealthy when supporting Black-owned business was our only option?

Should I write about the public school system, and how in many places, it has failed to produce adults who are prepared for the workplace?

Or should I discuss racism, which stigmatizes Black people, even those who are highly educated, so that as a group, highly educated Black people have only one-seventeenth (6%) of the wealth as whites who are high school drop-outs?

Maybe I should write about labor, because Philadelphia is known as a “labor town.” The union card, more than the college diploma, has guaranteed access to the middle class for millions of Americans. But not anywhere near enough Black people are in labor unions. Gotta fix that!

I struggled for days, read many studies, and talked to a few really smart people, looking for the “one key to wealth” that is accessible for most Black people NOW. I ended up at the most accepted source of truth in America today, the TV set.

First there was a commercial starring Shaquille O’Neal. Many of you have seen the commercial. Shaq goes into a bar. A guy asks Shaq if he knows the difference between being rich and being wealthy. Shaq says “no, you tell me.” The guy writes “$100” on a piece of paper, then tears it in half. He says most people spend their entire paycheck (the whole $100) paying bills and partying. He says the rich live and party with half their money ($50) and save the other half. Then the guy rips the $50 paper in half and says the wealthy live and party off half ($50), save 25% ($25), and invest 25% ($25).

That’s the simple formula that Shaq has used to accumulate over $400 million in wealth. Now we can’t all start out with NBA salaries. But I promise you, the formula is the same. Pick up “The Richest Man in Babylon,” by George Clason. You can get it at Hakim’s Bookstore on South 52nd Street, or Harriett’s Bookshop on East Girard, or Uncle Bobbies on Germantown, or Black and Noble Bookstore on South Street. It’s a great read.

My second “ah hah” from TV came from the popular “Insecure” show starring Isa Rae and Jay Ellis. The show is in its fifth season. It is as popular as ever, and the characters are as miserable and insecure as ever. They make lots of money, have lots of sex, wear beautiful clothes, live in a post-racial world, and party every night. But they are all unhappy, and “Insecure.”

So I related all this to a few articles I read about the connection between declining marriage rates among Black people and the growing wealth gap between Black and white people. It’s pretty amazing, AND there are connections to slavery. (In many places marriage between slaves was outlawed and punishable by whippings. The slave master wanted no limits on promiscuity. “Produce as many baby slaves as you can, young buck.”)

I know it’s not widely discussed, but the reality is that marriage is a great wealth builder. You can save more. One rent instead of two, two incomes instead of one. Lower taxes and insurance. Lower insurance rates. Savings on food, clothing and more. Easier to buy property. Equally as important, marriage with children can create generational wealth. Think about it: How many of us were left a home or a business or any property by our parents? Not many. That’s because, for many of us, our single mom was struggling all her life just to take care of the children, mostly by herself. As one author put it, “Wealth begets wealth through generations, and African Americans have missed out on that transfer for centuries. Just 8 percent of Black families receive an inheritance from parents or grandparents. For someone with no buffer of savings and no family member who can help, any financial emergency — a sudden illness or job loss — is a catastrophe.

U.S. data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), which tracks individuals in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, show that over time single respondents slowly increase their net worth. ”Married respondents experience per-person net worth increases of 77% over single respondents. Additionally, their wealth increases on average 16% for each year of marriage. Divorced respondents’ wealth starts falling four years before divorce and they experience an average wealth drop of 77%. While in percentage terms divorce hurts women more than men, the absolute difference is relatively small in the U.S.”

As the chart below shows, the median net worth of households with children is almost 100 times greater than for a household than is “living together.” The chart includes all Americans, not just African Americans. But the point is valid. Do a comparison of the people in your circle. On average, who has the most wealth? Owns a home? Is financially secure? You be the judge.

I’m not preaching or moralizing, but the hard facts are that marriage is a good vehicle for building wealth. It’s about economics. Thinking about divorce? As Johnnie Taylor said, “It’s cheaper to keep her.”

Obviously, there are many paths to wealth building for Black people. Get a good education, avoid the life of crime, eliminate racism, start a business, get a good job, etc. But one path with a very high return on investment, for you AND for your children, is to marry and build a strong family.

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