Technically these 5 things can destroy the future of any young person trying to have financial success in America, but since we are writing for The Black Man Survival Guide we want to focus particularly on the obstacles as they relate to our young black men. We already know that as African Americans we face many inequities in the US to include police harassment, institutional racism and in the case of the Trayvon Martin shooting, death at the hands of vigilante (in)justice. We recently wrote a piece on 10 Corporate and Government Policies that Unfairly Punish Black Men that focuses on things like redlining, stop-and-frisk and other systems that make the quest for success an unequal proposition for people of color. This article focuses on things that can knock you out of the box before you get started. Some are directly in your control black men, so take heed and be smart.
1. Not Finishing High School
No matter what anybody tells you, education is a major key to your financial success. Sure, there are a scant few who make it in the rap game or become YouTube sensations. Every once in a while some lucky soul wins the lottery or wins America’s Got Talent (shout out to Landau Eugene Murphy), but for the most part the majority of Americans will make their living based on their level of education.
It is a fact that during a lifetime the average American without a high school education will earn 40% less than someone with their high school degree (source: U.S. Census Bureau). It is also a fact that without a high school degree your work options are severely limited. Unemployment for teen and young adult African Americans is around 50%. Without your degree you will be on the bottom of the list to get a job while those with high school and college degrees will get their first pick. In today’s economy as a young black man without your diploma you are almost guaranteed not being able to find a job at all or at best finding a low-paying, non-skilled job that does not offer much upward financial mobility. Getting your diploma is entirely up to you and there is no excuse. We know there are tons of barriers for some (here is an article listing them), but you can do it with hard work and dedication.
2. Too Much Student Loan Debt
For those of you that make it through high school and go to college, first we commend you and second your work is not over. Graduating from college with 30, 40 or 50,000 worth of debt can set you behind financially for the rest of your life. In 2010 the average student loan debt for a graduate is 25,100 and the national level of student loan debt has surpassed a whopping $1 trillion. Student loans are one of the few debts that cannot be erased through bankruptcy so you will be saddled with this debt for the rest of your life. Paying a monthly student loan bill that is almost equal to your mortgage could mean that you never get ahead financially. Check this article for how to avoid massive college debt.
3. Credit Card Debt
Banks are a necessary evil in our society as it is still better to put your money in the bank instead of under your mattress. They also are mandatory for managing your personal finances like writing checks for paying bills. The alternative to the banks are payday loan places and check cashing centers, which are the most evil predators on the planet. Even though banks are a needed, the practice of shoving credit cards at young people to run up their debt is an evil trap that you must not get caught up in.
The number 1 business of banks is to get your money and use it to make more money. One of the ways they do this by giving you $1000 of credit on a credit card and then charge you $1,200 to use it (20% interest). If you don’t pay your credit cards off the debt increases, the interest gets higher and you are on the road to bankruptcy. Too often people think that using your credit card to buy things is like “having free money”, This is EXACTLY what the banks want you to think. If you find yourself saying any of these 3 things you are on your way to credit card disaster.
“I don’t have any money, but I can just buy it on credit”
“I can pay the bill off later when I get some more money”.
"I can pay the minimum to get them off my back"
If you don’t have money you can’t afford to buy it on credit, you will NEVER have "more" money, and paying the minimum just increases your debt. Do not fall for the credit card trap laid out by the banks.
4. The Military
I am just as patriotic as the next guy and I believe in defending this country, but young people need to know the dangers inherent in joining the military. The first and most obvious danger to your future is that you can get killed. Outside of death here is a brief list of other issues that you might face as a result of military service.
PTSD (current statistics say 30% of wartime vets suffer this)
Permanent Disability (loss of arms and legs or worse)
Depression (20% of wartime vets)
Inability to pay bills and manage finances while deployed
Difficulty finding a job upon return home
Serving your country is an honor and I would never tell you to not do it if this is what you believe in, but just know that there are physical, emotional and financial risks that go along with it and those risks can change the course of your life – permanently.
If you look at TV, listen to hip hop, rock or any other music, and you talk to many activists, they all say the same thing – smoking weed is not that bad and the US should legalize marijuana.
Whatever you think about legalizing marijuana in the future, let me remind you that today marijuana is not legal and the police are using weed to round up and incarcerate young black men by the thousands.
The so-called “war on drugs” has been the number one way to disproportionately lock up black men for minor drug offenses even though whites and blacks smoke weed at the same rate (see article "Warning - Smoking Weed Can Be Hazardous to Your Freedom”) . This trap was set in the 1970’s by President Nixon and 40 years later black men keep falling in.
Once in jail you can get raped, beaten, killed or worse. A short sentence can turn into a long one behind some prison foolishness. If you are lucky enough to get out you will have lost your ability to vote, and it will be extremely difficult. Black men – smoking weed may be fun but it is a trap set by the politicians and the prison industrial complex. Ask yourself this - is the fun worth risking my freedom over?
I don’t think I even need to talk about the dangers of other drugs like meth, heroin and crack, but just for the record – if you do these things you are a disaster waiting to happen.
If you are a young person reading this, just consider the above as you move from teen though adulthood. If you are an older person, please share this with someone who may need it. We all want the best for our youth as without them we are doomed to extinction as a people.
Be peaceful, but be strong and determined,