Black Americans have long had significantly lower wages and household wealth than White Americans. The roots of these inequities trace back to the central role slave labor once played in the nation’s economic system and the subsequent segregation and discrimination in labor markets. Today, most Black adults say the U.S. economic system does not treat Black people fairly. And though they are increasingly dissatisfied with capitalism, most Black adults say supporting Black businesses will help achieve equality, according to recent Pew Research Center surveys.
In an August 2022 survey, 54% of Black adults said they had a very or somewhat negative impression of capitalism, up from 40% in May 2019. Four-in-ten Black adults held a very or somewhat positive view of capitalism in 2022, down from 57% in 2019. Views of capitalism also grew more negative among other racial and ethnic groups during this period, but the movement was particularly pronounced among Black Americans. In fact, the 2022 survey found that Black adults were the only racial or ethnic group more likely to view capitalism more negatively than positively, and also the only group more likely to view socialism more positively (52%) than negatively (42%).
In that survey, a quarter of Black adults said the phrase “gives all people an equal opportunity to be successful” describes capitalism extremely or very well. About twice as many Black adults (49%) said this phrase does not describe capitalism well.
This analysis draws on three recent Pew Research Center surveys to examine the economic opinions and realities of Black adults in the United States.
The first survey was conducted among 3,912 Black Americans who identify as either non-Hispanic, multiracial and non-Hispanic, or Hispanic from Oct. 4 to 17, 2021. The survey includes 1,025 Black adults on Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel (ATP), and 2,887 Black adults on Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel. This survey provided the data on Black Americans’ assessments on economic inequality, the economic system, and whether they believe Black-owned businesses are an effective strategy for helping Black people move toward equality in the U.S. For more information on this study, read its methodology and questionnaire.
The second survey was conducted among 7,647 adults, including 818 single-race, non-Hispanic Black adults from Aug. 1 to 14, 2022, to better understand how the public views capitalism. This survey provided the data on Black Americans’ views of capitalism. The survey was conducted on the Center’s American Trends Panel, with an oversample of Hispanic adults from Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel. For more information on this study, read its methodology and questionnaire.
The third survey was conducted among 5,098 adults, including 696 single-race, non-Hispanic Black adults from Oct. 10 to 16, 2022. This survey provided the data on Black Americans’ personal financial situation. For more information on this study, read its methodology and questionnaire.
Respondents in each study were recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Recruiting panelists by phone or mail ensures that nearly all U.S. Black adults have a chance of selection. This gives us confidence that any sample can represent the whole population (here is our Methods 101 explainer on random sampling).
Earlier Pew Research Center surveys have also found broad criticisms of the U.S. economic system among Black Americans. In an October 2021 survey, roughly eight-in-ten Black adults (79%) said economic inequality is an extremely (54%) or very big problem (25%) for Black people living in the United States.
In the same survey, the vast majority of Black Americans said the U.S. economic system does not treat Black people fairly and that major changes to the system are needed. Roughly eight-in-ten Black adults (83%) said the economic system either needs to be completely rebuilt (37%) or needs major changes (46%). Another 11% said the system requires only minor changes.
Yet Black Americans were pessimistic that such changes would occur in their lifetimes. About six-in-ten Black adults (62%) said in 2021 that these changes are a little or not at all likely to occur. A quarter said such changes are somewhat likely to occur, and just 12% said such changes are extremely or very likely to occur.
Most Black Americans experience economic insecurity
Many Black Americans have experienced economic insecurity in recent years due to the financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment rate among Black workers has long been higher than that of other groups and remains so today, despite some improvement in recent years.
In an October 2022 survey, roughly seven-in-ten Black adults (69%) said their personal finances were in only fair or poor shape, while just three-in-ten (31%) said their finances were in excellent or good shape. Regardless of respondents’ age, gender and educational background, Black adults were more likely than not to say their personal finances were in only fair or poor health.
In October 2021, most Black adults also said they were not financially equipped to handle economic uncertainty. Fewer than four-in-ten (36%) said they had an emergency fund to cover three months of expenses in case of sickness, job loss, economic downturn or other emergencies.
In the same survey, about a fifth of Black adults (19%) said they had turned to family for financial assistance. Instead, Black adults were more likely to have given financial assistance to family members (39%).
Black women were more likely than Black men (43% vs. 34%) to have given money to family members, but both groups were still far more likely to have given than received financial assistance. Black adults with at least a bachelor’s degree (48%) and those with some college experience and no bachelor’s (45%) were more likely to have given money to family members than those with a high school diploma or less education (27%).
Black Americans say supporting Black businesses will help achieve equality
Despite having generally pessimistic views of capitalism, nearly six-in-ten Black adults (58%) said in the October 2021 survey that supporting Black-owned businesses is an extremely or very effective tactic for helping Black people move toward equality in the U.S. This view was widely shared among Black adults regardless of age and gender.
There were differences by political party and education, though. Black Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were more likely than Black Republicans and GOP leaners to say supporting Black businesses helps promote equality (63% vs. 41%). Those with at least a bachelor’s degree (63%) were also more likely than those with a high school diploma or less education (53%) to say so.
Related: A look at Black-owned businesses in the U.S.