Against All Odds

Documentary: Against All Odds: The Fight for a Black Middle Class (2017). Although some families are doing better, black wealth remains shockingly meager compared to that of white Americans. Nearly 40 percent of black children in America are poor, and what is probably unknown and perhaps a shock to many, for every dollar of wealth in the hands of the average white family the typical black family has little more than a nickel.

Acclaimed journalist Bob Herbert explores the often heroic efforts of black families to pursue the American dream in the face of unrelenting barriers. This film takes a detailed look at the harsh and often brutal discrimination that has made it extremely difficult for African-Americans to establish, and maintain, a middle-class standard of living.

The archival footage and truths revealed in this film may be difficult for some to watch; however, the only way to move forward is to be aware of, and acknowledge, the past. The full film is available for viewing at PBS.


Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Financial education is crucial in reversing this. It is definitely a complex issue but if the youth can be taught the basics it is a start. It seems so many feel it’s hopeless, like there is no way out. Something as simple as cashing a paycheck isn’t as simple as it would seem, especially when there are so few banks in low income areas, yet there are plenty of check cashing and title loan places. It would be great if black owned credit unions and banks like One United Bank were more accessible or better known for that matter. It is frustrating to know that so little is being done to even out the playing field. It seems like it’s getting worse. As long as certain segments of society continue to be marginalized the gap will widen.

    • “Financial education is crucial in reversing this.” Agreed that education, particularly financial education, is essential. However, as noted in Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide & Threatens Our Future, a recent book review here at RetirementSavvy, “the structure of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and the tax code, more than individual choices, propel some forward and serve as insurmountable barriers for others. The lack of resources and assets, most often the case for families of color, often decimate parents’ plans for their families.”

      Less eloquently than Mr. Shapiro, author of Toxic Inequality, I touched on the same idea in a past post, A Richer Understanding: Thinking About Maslow and Poverty. In the post I noted, “There is no doubt that those who find themselves mired in poverty have likely made some bad choices. Maybe even some terrible choices. However, haven’t we all? The unfortunate reality is that many poor have never been in a position to make better choices, don’t have reasonable access to capital [and other resources], and they find themselves mired in a situation that becomes harder to break free of, particularly in a system and economic environment that is not very forgiving.”

      In the same post I noted, “… those who are mired in poverty, who struggle to establish a firm financial foundation, continually bounce between the lower two levels [Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs], physiological and safety. It’s hard (impossible?) to have high self-esteem, gain the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, or think too far beyond one’s self (and the present situation) if struggling to keep the heat on in an apartment and aren’t 100% sure where the next meal will come from.” In short, it’s hard to focus – and act – on educating yourself, in general or personal finance specifically, if you’re doing all you can to keep your head above water.

      “Something as simple as cashing a paycheck isn’t as simple as it would seem, especially when there are so few banks in low income areas, yet there are plenty of check cashing and title loan places.” So very true. I touch on the issue of the ‘unbanked’ and payday loans (and title loans) in multiple posts. A great documentary short is Spent: Looking for Change. Check it out when you have 39:56 minutes of free time.

      Great input! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, my friend. Be well.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, James. And a big thank you for making me aware of all the free content available on PBS. I never realized they have so many full-length programs and that the website works with Chromecast. Since we’ve given up cable we mostly use Netflix and YouTube.

    • Indeed. PBS makes lots of great content available for streaming. Looking forward to your feedback should you view this particularly documentary.

      • I just finished watching the documentary. It’s quite disheartening. I learned a few things, like I had no idea there were hardly any black people living in Levittown on LI let alone there was a 2nd one in PA. (I heard of the town Levittown PA but didn’t know it started as a site of Levitt built homes).

        What’s most upsetting is the violence. It made me think of recent developments in which some UN papers now declassified revealed that Europe and the U.S. knew what was going on during the holocaust two years prior than what was originally claimed. In both cases I don’t understand how this was just decades ago, and the world watched. It’s unfathomable.

        • Exactly. Most have no idea that just within the last few generations our own government actively discriminated (e.g. FHA Redlining [e.g. Levittown which you mentioned and warehousing of minority families in public housing] and utilization of the GI Bill [e.g. Of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill, fewer than 100 were taken out by non-whites] following service) against minorities. While some – I don’t even believe it’s a case of ‘most’ – know the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act a year later in 1965, too many fail to realize decades of discrimination continue to impact many minority families.

          It isn’t that hard to understand how we got to the point of such ingrained wealth inequality. It shouldn’t be any wonder that families who had the opportunity to start building wealth (e.g. buying a home with help of the GI Bill) 2 – 3 generations ago would be much further ahead, and be in a position to build on their advantages, than families who were not afforded the same opportunities.

          Each personal finance blogger we know is familiar with the concept of compound interest. The same force works beyond investing money. Just as the individual who starts regularly investing at 35 will find it hard (impossible?) to catch up to individual who has been investing regularly since her early 20s, so will the family who was not afforded the same opportunities as other families for a number of generations. Neither the Civil Rights nor Voting Rights Acts change that fact.

          Every American should worry deeply about the fact for every dollar of wealth in the hands of the average white family the typical black family has little more than a nickel. Moreover, every American has to understand this disparity is not because of any genetic shortcomings, most specifically, intellect. The disparity can be attributed solely to societal factors. Such a disparity is not sustainable.

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