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Why Financial Health Is a Wellness Problem Particular to the Latinx Community

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Photo: Getty Images/Drakula & Co.
Financial wellness has become a highly-searched (dare I say, trendy) term over the last several years. At its core, financial wellness is a key measurement that determines one’s ability to have a healthy financial life — savings to get you out of an unexpected hardship, a comfortable monthly income, so you’re not living paycheck to paycheck; and even a nest egg for your retirement. But, factoring in race and ethnicity, it becomes clear that though financial wellness is attainable, there are different starting lines depending on your identity.

According to the FDIC’s National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households report, roughly 63 million Americans are either unbanked, meaning they don’t have access to a traditional bank account, or underbanked, which means they have a bank account but use non-bank alternatives such as payday lenders or check cashers. That's about 18.5 percent of the country, but when you break that down into ethnic groups, it's even higher.

Of the nearly 61 million Latinxs living in the United States, a reported 30 percent of low-income Latinx households are unbanked and, similarly, 30 percent are underbanked—and nearly 50 percent of low-income Black households are unbanked or underbanked. Though Latinx is often used as a racial category, it’s a pan-ethnic group composed of a number of racial identities, which if analyzed further, could impact the overall figure. What’s clear, even at this macro level, though, is how bias and discrimination continue to fuel the racial wealth gap, impacting the financial trajectory of Black and brown individuals.

“When we think about the concept of social justice and equity in this country, our last sort of human right that hasn't actually been met is equity around economic justice,” says Ramona Ortega, founder and CEO of My Money My Future. “This country made a lot of money on the backs of our labor, and we didn't get the benefit of that labor; the consequence of that is the racial wealth gap.”

Ortega, whose company is focused on closing the racial and gender wage gap, emphasizes that there are a number of structural and systemic factors that impact historically marginalized communities. And Ana Trevino, head of community financial wellness at the banking collective Tend, agrees, naming several barriers like a lack of culturally relevant services, scarcity of bank branches in predominantly Black, brown, and low-income neighborhoods, language and generational barriers, identification requirements, and high-interest loans and fees, as key factors contributing to Latinx individuals being unbanked and underbanked.

“For the unbanked and underbanked population, it is almost impossible to acquire the resources necessary to pursue your financial goals,” shares Trevino. Like Ortega, she acknowledges how the lack of access results in compounded issues. “It costs a lot of money to not have a lot of money,” she adds.

What's more: Because health is holistic, physical, mental, and emotional wellness issues are closely connected to financial woes. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 72 percent of adults feel stressed about money, which impacts their overall health. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by National Public Radio found that 72 percent of Latinx households around the country reported they're facing serious financial problems, and 46 percent revealed they have used up all or most of their savings during the pandemic. The same poll showed that 25 percent of these households had problems affording medical care during this time, a byproduct of a lack of health insurance. While the pandemic magnified these issues, financial stress has long been connected to chronic health conditions such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.

One potential solution for addressing barriers to financial wellness for Black and brown communities involves circumnavigating traditional banking and financial systems. For example, Trevino is confident that digital banking apps like Tend may make it possible to level the proverbial playing field for unbanked and underbanked individuals by “providing financial services to underserved communities, making it cheaper and easier to save, spend, give, borrow, and take control over your money,” she believes. “As we start making progress toward our goals, we'll have the satisfaction of knowing we’re in an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life."

From there, building wealth becomes more feasible, and that is the ultimate goal, according to Ortega, whose forthcoming book, No Shame in the Money Game, is focused on helping marginalized people do just that. She believes there are several strategies to achieve this, more specifically five pillars, to building intergenerational wealth: organizing your financial life; evaluating your budget (adhering to a 50/20/30 budget rule); investing in a Roth IRA, your 401k or both; taking care of your credit history; and, ultimately, investing in real estate.

These financial goals may seem far off—especially if your starting line was behind others—but setting them and slowly working your way toward tackling them little by little will bring them closer than doing nothing at all.

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