Information and communications technologies could prove to be “game-changers” in transforming the level of financial literacy and personal savings in the African-African community, according to the National Urban League president.
Marc Morial, who heads the 102-year-old civil rights organization, offered this view as part of a wide-ranging talk at a luncheon in New York City on Tuesday hosted by Prudential Financial. Moderated by Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien, a former CNN anchor and special correspondent, the luncheon presentation explored the economic opportunities and challenges facing African-Americans and other minorities, particularly those in underserved communities.
Morial said that greater use of advertising and educational outreach through television, the Internet and social media are needed to raise financial awareness and preparedness within these communities. IT solutions at the point of sale in retail outlets can also be used to promote long-term savings.
Just as, he noted, Walgreen’s debit/credit card terminals now prompt users to donate to the American Cancer Society when making a purchase, the devices might also avail them of the opportunity to contribute to a retirement savings account or annuity before concluding a transaction.
“We have to use the tools of today to communicate [financial-oriented] messages in a clever, exciting and fun way,” he said. “If this subject is truly important, then it will require greater product development, marketing, advertising, social media, education and behavioral modification.”
The need for boosting financial literacy has grown more urgent. Citing the National Urban League’s Equality Index (which compares conditions between whites and blacks in America using multiple variables) Morial said the economic gap has widened since the Great Recession of 2008. He noted the differences are “significant” in terms of unemployment (higher among African-Americans than among whites), income (lower) and net worth (far lower).
“The National Urban League is dedicated to closing these gaps—between African-Americans and whites and between all communities of color,” he said. “The recession increased these economic gaps, not only between blacks and whites, but between all Americans who are at the lower half of the economic spectrum and those at the top 15 to 20 percent.”
The long-term health of the U.S. economic and America’s competitiveness globally, he added, hinges in part on narrowing the economic divide among ethnic groups. One reason: The U.S. will soon no longer have a white majority, as people of color—most notably the Latino population—account for the fastest-growing segments of the population.
Morial said that public and corporate policies are needed to reduce economic inequality, among them initiatives like those of the National Urban League. Some 2.8 million people annually benefit from the organization’s services, including job training, job placement, education and support for small businesses.