Saturday, October 21, 2017
By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil
Published November 18, 2011

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

I’ve got some great news for you. And it flies in the face of the steady stream of negative stories and statistics you’re consistently bombarded with about African-Americans. But here it is: African-Americans are an economic force to be reckoned with, spending more than $967 billion a year. With a buying power that is expected to reach $1.1 trillion annually by 2015, if African-Americans were a country, we’d be the 16th largest country in the world–bigger than Turkey, Australia and Taiwan.

That is the conclusion of The State of the African-American Consumer Report, a groundbreaking, first-of-its kind report developed by Nielsen in collaboration with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a 71-year old federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers throughout the United States. It is the first time Nielsen has ever consolidated all of the buying and consumer behavior about Blacks into one publication. And oh boy does it tell a story.

Let’s simply begin with the title of the report and why we opted to name it The State of the African-American Consumer Report vs. The State of the Black Consumer Report. What a great discussion that ensued around this! It is important for marketers to recognize and understand the full diversity of the Black population in the United States. African-Americans represent the majority of the Black Population at 89%. But, we also recognize that the U.S. Black population includes those that describe themselves as Black: all nationalities that represent the Black Diaspora, (for example, those who are Jamaican or Nigerian) as well as persons who define their racial background as a combination of Black and another race: 7.5% are West Indian, 2.1% are Sub-Saharan African, 0.8% are Central American, 0.4% are Asian and 0.3% are Black Hispanics. For the purposes of the report–and for this column too–Nielsen uses the term African-American to describe the Black population as not all of Nielsen’s insights are broken into self-identifying sub-groups.

You probably are familiar with the fact that African-Americans make up 13.6% of the American population and are projected to reach 14% over the next 10 years. But do you know off the top of your head how many millions of people that equates to? Right now, there are 42,017,000 of us and in 10 years, that will be 47,587,000. That’s a lot of people! More than 47% of our population is under age 35. We most heavily populate the Southeastern states. And, we love our major urban areas like the corridor from New York to DC, major Midwest industrial cities, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. However, even though we have traditionally favored cities, the latest trends show a new migration to warmer climates and more suburban than urban choices. For example, Atlanta has seen an 8% drop in its Black population while the surrounding suburbs have experienced a 40% explosion in the numbers of African-Americans living there.

Many of us are struggling financially, but isn’t it heartening to know that the number of African-American households earning $75K or more has grown by 63.9% over the last 10 years? The number of households in our community earning $100,000 or more has nearly doubled over the last decade to almost 1.5 million. Where do we ever hear this story if not in the Black Press?!

Oftentimes the discussion about African-Americans and education is centered on concerns such as subpar urban schools, high dropout rates, and lack of collegiate preparation and access. But did you know that over the last decade, African-Americans over the age of 25 have seen more growth in educational achievement in high school, college and graduate school than any other demographic group in this country? During that period, 17.6% of us earned bachelor’s degrees compared to 14.3% of the general population.

Sometimes it is simply noteworthy to understand we have some good news going on in our communities too. And while The State of the African-American Consumer Report does not attempt to gloss over the social issues we face, I believe you can’t feel empowered unless you are at the very least aware of what your power is in the first place. I am exposed to data and insights every day and some of the positive aspects of being an African-American consumer were even surprising to me. So, I hope that you will take the time to read the insert of this report when it lands in this publication. You can also download it at Digest it and feel the power.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to


Categories: Op-Ed

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