FDIC Study Highlights Racial Disparities in Metro St. Louis for those who are Unbanked

On December 2, 2009, the FDIC released its National Survey on Unbanked and Underbanked Households. The survey examined the number of households in the United States that do not have checking or savings accounts (unbanked) as well as the number of households that have a checking or savings account but use alternative financial services such as non-bank money orders and check cashing services, payday loans, refund anticipation loans, pawn shops and rent-to-own agreements (underbanked).

Nationally, the study found that 7.7 percent of the population is unbanked, and a further 17.9 percent are underbanked. The study found a high disparity between racial groups, finding 21.7 percent of black, 19.3 percent of Hispanic and 15.6 percent of American Indian / Alaska Native households to be unbanked compared to 3.5 percent of Asian and 3.3 percent of white households that are unbanked. The percentage of St. Louis households that are unbanked is slightly lower than the national average (7.5 percent); however, the racial disparities are more significant than in any other metropolitan area, with 31.0 percent of black households in the St. Louis region being unbanked, compared to 1.1 percent of white households. The percentage of African American households that is unbanked in St. Louis is higher than for any other metropolitan region in the country (see table 4.2, page 24).

Commenting on the report, Mira Tanna, Assistant Director of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council said: “The report shows that banks in the St. Louis region have done a poor job reaching out to African Americans. We have identified banks that exclude predominately African American areas from their service area and that choose to locate their branches only in predominately white neighborhoods. At the same time, many African American neighborhoods are littered with alternative financial services such as payday lenders and auto title loan companies that charge excessive interest rates. It is time for banks to offer equitable access to credit to African Americans in the St. Louis region.”

The disparities between blacks and whites in banking in the St. Louis area are not new. A 2000 study by the Center for Community Change found St. Louis to have the highest disparities among upper income blacks and whites in the use of subprime loan products.

EHOC helped form the St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance (SLEHCRA) to help increase investment in low-income and minority communities in part by ensuring that banks are have facilities in and are lending to these communities, and that banks are offering products and services that meet the needs of low-income borrowers.