Predatory lending contributes to hunger among African Americans


By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that 11 percent of U.S. households struggled with hunger in 2018. This is the seventh year in a row of decline in the number of Americans experiencing hunger. We are finally back to where we were before the Great Recession.

“Bread for the World celebrates this progress against hunger,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “It is due to low unemployment, combined with the fact that Congress has repeatedly backed away from cutting safety-net programs like Medicaid and SNAP.”

African American households, however, did not see any gains over this period. More than 21 percent of African Americans are struggling with hunger. Why? Historic wealth and income gaps, policies that contribute to structural racism and gender inequities, and predatory lending help answer this question.

Some have observed that this lack of progress against hunger contributes to a sense of weariness. The Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, director of faith affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending, states the following in her October devotional about the contributing factor of predatory lending. The devotional can be found in Bread for the World’s Pan African Quad-Centennial devotional guide Lament and Hope:

“Today all of us are wringing our hands as an astonishing number of families must confront bad financial actors in their own communities. These actors are poised to prey on the vulnerability of these families under the guise of helping them by putting them in cycles of debt. This is an economic vortex that devours financial independence and social hope. The desperation of many families prevents them from understanding that many quick, convenient financial ‘solutions’ to their car or appliance repair needs are actually predatory lending schemes that can rob them of their ability to care for their loved ones.”

Such inequitable practices are inconsistent with the biblical teachings. Rev. Hamlin points to examples of this in the books of Exodus, Proverbs, Luke, and Ephesians.

  • Exodus 22:25-27 presents God’s prohibition of charging excessive interest, usury, and predatory practices against the poor—admonishing us to treat those in need with dignity.
  • Proverbs 28:8-10 tells us that God pronounces judgment on those who structure unethical practices in business.
  • Luke 19:12-27 envisions enhanced income through wise and just investment, encouraging honorable investing in people and community.
  • Ephesians 6:12 warns of invisible systems that prohibit wealth-building among other life-giving measures and calls us to advocacy with our policy leaders.

Bread for the World envisions a world in which all people are economically empowered so that all people can be fed. We invite you to work with us in advocating with and for vulnerable families so that they are not offered predatory financial products or programs and policies. Please consider holding a Bread for the World Sunday and an Offering of Letters to advocate for this. 

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.

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