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Ask Money

Black buying power hits $1.1 trillion. What does it mean?

David Lazarus Feb 7, 2014
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Think about the price-tag of $1.1 trillion dollars.

If we were talking about countries, that would be the 16th biggest economy in the world, but it’s not a country, it’s the combined buying power of a group of people who are part of this country: African-Americans.

A recent study by the Nielsen Company predicts that African-American buying power will hit that $1.1 trillion number next year. “The black population is young, hip and highly influential. We are growing 64 percent faster than the general market,” says Cheryl Pearson McNeil, a senior vice president at Nielsen.

Companies spend $75 billion a year on advertising, but only three percent of that is in Black publications, and casting Black actors, and on Black TV and radio stations. Pearson-McNeil says, if you ignore this demographic, as many big companies have done, you do so at your own peril.

“If you want to market to those groups, then you should know what particular group buys your stuff,” says Noel King, reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty desk. “Blacks tend to spend more on electronics, utilities, groceries, footwear. They spend a lot less on new cars, alcohol, entertainment, health care, and pensions.”

Dr. Jared Ball, a professor at Morgan State University, researched Black buying power, but says that $1.1 trillion doesn’t mean everything is great for the Black community. “This phrase, ‘buying power,’ is used as a glossy euphemism for Black poverty for being the fault of Black spending habits, as opposed to a pre-determined need in our economic model. A lot of people pick up this phrase and hear these large numbers, and assume Black America is stronger than Black America actually is.”


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Cheryl Pearson-McNeil. She is a senior vice president with Nielsen. The text has been corrected.

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