Despite a strong regulatory environment, Atlanta has a very high percentage of unbanked residents. The estimated unbanked cost for the city of Atlanta annually is $96.5 million.Atlanta needs financial empowerment intervention.
Despite a strong regulatory environment (Georgia has outlawed Payday Loans) the state—Fulton County, in particular—has a very high percentage of unbanked residents and has seen an increase in the number of pawnshops and check cashers in recent years. These alternative financial providers are clustered in majority minority neighborhoods exacerbating the cycle of financial exclusion for Blacks and other minority residents. In Fulton County alone, 36% of residents are either unbanked or underbanked, and pay on average $14 to cash a $500 payroll check. The total estimated unbanked cost for the city residents of Atlanta annually is $96.5M. Furthermore, when examined from a racial distribution lens, majority minority census tracts (where more than 50% of the population is made up of any combination of people of color) in Atlanta have 35.1% fewer traditional banking institutions than majority-white tracts, on average, and twice as many alternative-banking establishments (Trulia and National Fair Housing Authority, 2018).
In Fulton County, residents in alternatively banked neighborhoods are predominantly racial minorities, where 57% of residents are Black compared to traditionally banked neighborhoods, where 62% of residents are White. Atlanta’s leaders and nonprofits like Operation HOPE must come together to intervene by providing financial empowerment to alter these drastic disparities made possible by persistent segregation caused by market policies and practices. As Chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE states, “Individuals of color have not received “The Memo” – the memo of financial education; of financial engagement; of financial inclusion.” The financial exclusion of minorities in Atlanta is a prime example of why the work of Operation HOPE is so important. By closing financial literacy gaps, Operation HOPE aims to alleviate economic inequalities such as those seen in Black neighborhoods.
Operation HOPE believes that segregation of banking services plays a pivotal role in the extreme wealth gap and poverty prevalent in Atlanta. The percent of individuals living in poverty in the alternatively banked neighborhoods in Fulton County is almost two times higher than the poverty rate in traditionally banked neighborhoods (24% compared to 13%, respectively).
Furthermore, the persistent racial distribution in Atlanta has led to concentrated areas of Blacks and other minorities living in poverty. The most impoverished areas in Atlanta are majority minority zip codes. In fact, the 10 zip codes with the highest rates of poverty in Atlanta are Black neighborhoods. These same neighborhoods have a median income of only $32,427 – well below Atlanta’s median income of $49,398 and Fulton County’s median income of $58,851.
The economic disparity between majority minority neighborhoods and White neighborhoods does not stop at the edge of income, however. Assets in these majority Black neighborhood areas are also lower. The greatest median home value in Atlanta, $859,600, is located in zip code 30327 which is only 12% black. This median home value is 230% higher than the highest median home value in a majority minority neighborhood (zip code 30317; 54% black). This housing disparity is simply a microcosm of a greater systemic problem. Atlanta currently ranks 1st among US cities with the largest wealth gap. Atlanta’s latest Gini coefficient is 37% higher than the US Gini coefficient. The Gini Index is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the wealth distribution of an area and it is the most commonly used measurement of inequality.
It will be important for the future success of Atlanta to address these economic disparities and inequalities. Persistent racial discrimination and predatory financial market practices are fueling an era of economic injustice. HOPE is at the forefront of fighting these inequalities by breaking down institutional barriers. Starting with financial education, including one-on-one financial counseling, and ending with financial empowerment and dignity, HOPE guides participants to lead lives of financial inclusion and economic prosperity.
Operation HOPE is a for-purpose organization working to disrupt poverty and empower inclusion for low and moderate-income youth and adults.