December 26, 2013

by Brandon Brooks, Managing Editor,

Kenneth Miller, Asst. Managing Editor

& Jennifer Bihm, Sentinel Staff Writer

Nothing ever came easy for financial expert, Dega Nalayeh, but the Somalia native, who grew up in a family of 12 children, has made her transition into the billion dollar financial industry look as smooth as her beautiful skin coat.

Nalayeh migrated to Canada before arriving in the United States and her ability to learn quickly and move rapidly has been key in her escalation into the hierarchy of U.S. Trust where she continued to grow professionally in a male dominated industry.

“Dega is a motivating person,” said Miesha Carter, client sales and service officer, of her boss Nalayeh, who is a senior vice president private client advisor with U.S. Trust, a division of Bank of America.

“She stays on top of everything. She knows what she’s talking about. And, just to be able to get in front of clients and know what you’re talking about and when you’re able to come back and convey that to your employees and encourage them to do more and better, I think that’s her greatest attribute. “

Nalayeh began her career with Bank of America over 15 years ago, where she started in the Consumer Bank and quickly assumed higher responsibility. She joined Bank of America’s Private Bank in 2006. Currently, she oversees more than $2.5 billion of client assets.

“I deal primarily with individuals and wealthy families (minimum $3 million in liquid assets),” explained Nalayeh during a recent interview with the Sentinel.

“My job is to help them preserve their wealth. I also manage their risk while helping them accomplish their goals. My goal is to get to know that individual, get to know their family dynamics. [I get to know] their feelings about money. What is it that they want to accomplish? What legacy do they want to leave behind?”

Nalayeh was born the fifth of twelve children in Somalia, where her father had been a politician. He defected in the early 80s, she said, and sought political asylum in Canada.

“It was my father defecting from Somalia, which was home and finding out on the news, just like everyone else,” she recalled.

“Pretty much, the government came to our home and took everything away. It took about two years to get all of us out of the country one by one.”

She credits her success with clientele to being part of a large family.

“My 7 sisters and four brothers and I all grew up in the same household. I think that really makes me good at what I do,” Nalayeh said.

“It’s not just knowing the product, knowing the numbers… it’s about knowing human beings. A lot of what I do is like being a therapist, especially when you’re dealing with multi-generations of family and advising them on how to pass down wealth. There’s a lot of complexity when it comes to family.

“What gives me, I think [an edge] is I can walk into any meeting and I can read everyone. What are they thinking? What are their hot buttons?”

Nalayeh and one of her sisters left Canada for Atlanta where she began her career. They left Atlanta after two years for California. She’s been in her current position for a little over seven years now and it’s been hard work, she said.

“I started with no clients,” she explained.

“Luckily, I can say seven and a half years later, I manage over 2 billion dollars in assets. And, that’s really just going out there, going out in the community and just asking for business.

“It’s not easy. No one is just going to give you 3 million dollars and say, ‘hey, Dega, I see your title, here’s 3 million dollars for you to manage.’ I think it’s credibility and having your existing clients. The majority of my business comes from referrals from my existing clients… one thing that makes me unique is the passion that I have.

“[For example] I deal with a lot of international clients, not just local clients. A lot of them are very secretive when it comes to wealth. The matriarch of the family will have all of the wealth and the family doesn’t know it. I’m about educating that person and making them see the importance of setting their family to succeed instead of fail.”

That’s why she sets up customized classes for her client’s kids.

“They could be a teenager, they could be 40,” she said.

She begins with a test to see where they are financially. From there, she teaches them everything from the basics of banking to lending and investing.

As busy as her work schedule is, Nalayeh, a single mom, must also find time for her six-year old son and a variety of volunteer efforts, one of which is speaking to women about financial literacy.

“One thing I advise is that women need to take control of their finances,” she said.

“Throughout the years I’ve seen a lot of women hand over their finances to the significant other in their lives. What I do is more educational… how do we understand our own finances.

She also volunteers at schools, teaching kids financial basics.

“I think that children are so impressionable,” she said.

“I teach them the basic concepts of money and at the end of the year, I see what they’ve learned. Whether it’s an inner city school, a public school or a private school, I love educating kids. If we start [teaching] them young as mothers and fathers about money… education is great but as equally important as teaching them how to be successful and financially independent, is teaching them about money. They need to know how to save, how to spend and how to give.”

Being healthy and finding balance is how she keeps it all together, she said.

“I think health and wealth go hand-in-hand. Health should be your number one priority. If you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. ”

Eating well and staying active just makes for a better life.

“You manage better,” she said.

“You have more energy… and I don’t have energy to waste. I have a six-year old, so when I come home, I [still] have to be full of energy.”

Part of her health routine is doing marathon runs for different charities.

“Running for me, is peaceful and I have a passion for charity, so why not combine the two,” she said.

“She’s a go-getter and she doesn’t back down,” said Taire Hanson, a client services manager who has worked directly with Nalayeh for the past six years.

“She’s a great motivator and I actually look up to and admire her.”

Nalayeh works with high end clients but says anyone can apply her financial advice to their lives.

“I think it’s really important to understand the big picture. I don’t care if you’re making ten dollars or sixty dollars. Start saving. Be on a budget,” she said.

“The sooner you start saving the better. When you get your paycheck, don’t pay your bills first, pay yourself first. It could be $100, it could be $50… also, start investing. The earlier you invest the better. If you don’t know, seek the information. There are so many resources these days, especially on line.”

Nalayeh received her Bachelor’s Degree with Honors from York University in Toronto, Canada, where she majored in Applied Mathematics and Physics.

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December 26, 2013

By Stephon Johnson

Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

 

If information is the new currency, communities of color could go broke.

 A new report by the Greenlining Institute, titled “DISCONNECTED: What the Phone System’s Digital Transition Will Mean for Consumers,” alleges that the immediate shift to digital phone networks could leave certain communities without basic standards like affordable services and access to 911 for emergencies.

 The Greenlining Institute is a Berkeley, Calif.-based research and advocacy nonprofit with a focus on racial justice.

 According to the report’s findings, because major telephone providers plan to upgrade the technology they use in their telephone networks, including switching to all-digital networks, the FCC needs to enforce basic standards during the transition to make sure phone service is available and affordable.

 “People in rural areas could lose service, and low-income consumers might not be able to get basic phone service they can afford,” reads the report.

 But many major carriers argue that the Federal Communications Commission should reduce its ability to enforce the basic standards that the Greenlining Institute’s study advocates. They advocate the elimination of FCC and state oversight of all-digital networks based on the argument that they should be treated as information services and not telecommunications services.

 The report points out that all of these findings combined would affect all telephone users but would hurt low-income consumers and communities of color the most because those groups are less likely to have home Internet service and spend more time on their phones.

 This week, the FCC planned on looking at these issues during a meeting, when the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update.

 “While analog televisions and digital televisions use different technologies, they are both televisions,” stated the report’s conclusion. “While gas and electric cars use different technologies, they are both cars. A call made on an analog telephone network and a call made on a digital telephone network may use different technologies, but both calls are telephone calls.”

 The report called upon policymakers, industry and other stakeholders to design an analog-to-digital telephone transition that “protects, enhances and improves the universally available phone service that we have today.”

 Paul Goodman, legal counsel for the Greenlining Institute and co-author of the report, said that all phones share the same purpose, no matter how they are being used.

 “A century ago, America realized that telephone service isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and built a careful system of consumer safeguards into our phone network,” said Goodman in a statement. “All of those safeguards could be at risk if the FCC fails to recognize that, for consumers, a phone call is a phone call, regardless of what technology carries the signal from point A to point B.

 “FCC Chair Tom Wheeler seemed to acknowledge this recently when he said that ‘technology doesn’t change the basic relationship between networks and those that use them,’ and now that understanding must be backed up with action,” concluded Goodman.

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December 19, 2013

In September, 2013, Darren Walker became the second African American and 10th president of the Ford Foundation, America’s second largest philanthropy organization with $500 million in annual giving. After a stint in international law and banking, Walker served as the COO of a non-profit agency in New York before moving to the foundation world, first arriving at the Rockefeller Foundation before being tapped to fill a vice president slot at Ford in 2010.

By Khalil Abdullah

Special to the NNPA from

New American Media

 

Q: What excites you most about taking on the presidency of the Ford Foundation?

A: I have a chance to make a difference by leading a remarkable institution committed to social justice when the very notion of social justice is being contested. Our country’s policies and discourse sometimes feel retrograde, taking us back to when justice was more rationed … particularly for low-income people and people of color. I have a huge opportunity to fortify those voices.

We made great progress … in poverty reduction, employment for low income and low skill workers, in increased participation in higher education and high school graduate rates…When I hear, ‘Oh, the War on Poverty was a waste of time,’ I don’t accept that. You have a hard time convincing me that investments in human capacity and in the potential of people like me to advance in society have somehow been for naught.

Q: How would you describe youth unemployment as a social justice issue?

A: This is not only a phenomenon in the United States, it’s a global phenomenon. If there are no job and career opportunities for young people, you’re going to have social unrest and instability. This is part of the broader challenge around inequality because it reduces opportunities for many while accreting huge benefits to a few. So, there is a global struggle around justice. Faces may look different but the social features in a given society are similar.

Q: How do you explain Ford’s role to newcomers trying to learn how America works?

A: The non-profit sector is a somewhat uniquely American phenomenon. It’s understandable for some immigrants to be unable to contextualize it when they arrive.

Immigrants experience the Ford Foundation through organizations and people who look like them … If you are Hmong from Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos, and you turn up in Minneapolis, you learn that Ford is supporting a local Hmong-run organization to help immigrants transition or with legal advocacy. We don’t say, ‘Hmong community, we’re the Ford Foundation; you need to know who we are.’ Our job is to fund those organizations. They give us legitimacy. We don’t give them legitimacy. This is not about our brand.

Q: How do you answer a community organization when its leaders say, ‘We want to go in a different direction from your top-down mandate’?

A: I ran a community organization and have been on the receiving end of top-down dictates. When I worked in Harlem, people said, ‘Here’s what we think you need.’ That experience has informed my posture more than anything.

You have to listen. Our programs have to be informed by those affected and whom we seek to empower.

Q: The foundation world is enraptured by metrics. How do you measure effectiveness?

A: Many great movements and societal transformations would not have been achieved if we started with “Can we measure it?” Not all that needs to be done is ‘metricable.’ Putting everything through a standardized metrics approach would squelch innovation and new ideas.

But knowing what works is important and necessary. We’ve known situations where things that are not working still get funded and things that are working get underfunded. I’m sensitive to this issue of balance.

Q: An example of how you address that balance?

A: There’s thinking that says, with respect to Black men and boys, single-sex education is better. I would like to know if this works. That takes a rigorously designed program to actually know. Here, I like metrics. If you tell me this is better, in terms of achievement and success, that’s where I want policy to be directed.

But who is to say that litigation and public interest law, which are having a hard time, should be defunded because a metric would tell us, oh, well, they’re not succeeding right now? That doesn’t mean we should stop funding public interest and legal work.

Q: Where do arts and culture fit in the social justice agenda?

A: There are aspects of cultural programming, like arts education, where you can measure impact on student achievement, particularly for low-income students.

But there is a more profound idea of understanding the human condition that comes from exploring our culture and all its forms and vibrancy…Engaging in ideas and self-examination is what great art does, whether it’s James Baldwin holding up the mirror to us about racism and homophobia, or Diego Rivera challenging our notions of economy and industry.

I know from my own experience that culture and the arts nurture the soul and allow us to have dignity. Inequality and poverty rob one, particularly children, of their dignity and aspirations. Culture encourages the imagination. My imagination saved my life; my ability to believe, beyond the experience I was having on any given day, in what the future could be.

Q: Much ethnic media are dependent on advertising yet that for-profit model is being disrupted by the Internet. Can foundations keep this media vibrant?

A: Ford can’t save media. We can engage the questions: What is the field going to look like or the future pipeline of journalists; who’s going to employ them; what business models are sustainable?

Foundations are not always best positioned to know the answer. We are best positioned to convene the people who can solve these problems.

Look, I grew up on the Houston Forward Times newspaper in Houston, Texas, going to my grandmother’s. It’s still there, I was just in Houston. When I was in Harlem, I was in a story someone did on an organization I worked for. My mother gave it to my grandmother who said, ‘Well, that is great that he’s in the New York Times. But when is he going to be in Jet?’ To her, when I was going to be in Jet or the Forward Times, that’s when she would know I had arrived. That media is still so important.

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December 19, 2013

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In-home workers, 90 percent of them women, often live in poverty, earn low wages and work grueling hours without many of the protections enjoyed by most workers, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on public policy that affects low- and middle-income families.

These are the workers who cook meals, clean homes and care for the elderly, the disabled and children. Nearly 20 percent of all in-home workers are Black even though Blacks account for less than 11 percent (10.9 percent) of workers in other jobs.

The EPI study looked at economic impact that low wages and thin benefits earned by in-home workers has on their lives.

According to the report, The Occupational Safety and Health Act doesn’t apply to people who hire domestic workers their own homes.

Unlike autoworkers, teachers and even professional athletes, in-home workers can’t organize to achieve better benefits and contracts. The fact that they often work alone contributes to their marginalization.

“Federal antidiscrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, all generally only cover employers with multiple employees, meaning most in-home workers are excluded from these protections. This is also true of the Family and Medical Leave Act,” stated the report.

In-home workers make about six dollars less than workers in other occupations and roughly 12 percent of in-home workers receive health benefits from their employers. More than 23 percent of in-home workers live below the poverty line, compared to just 6.5 percent of other workers.

“More than half—51.4 percent—of in-home workers live below twice the poverty line, compared with 20.8 percent of workers in other occupations, stated the report, earning less than what it takes to make ends meet.

Despite low wages and subpar benefits, researchers estimate that the in-home worker industry will grow at a rate that’s 40 percent faster than other occupations by 2020, due largely to the incredible growth among strong personal care aides and home health aides.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of home health aides is expected to grow by 69 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of personal care aides is expected to grow by 70 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

As the industry grows, employing more minorities that will be responsible in funding entitlement programs like Social Security, it will become increasingly more important to ensure that they earn fair wages.

“Though individual employers of in-home workers can and should improve their employees’ wages and benefits, policy changes at the state and federal level are needed to rectify the exclusion of many in-home workers from employment and labor laws,” stated the report.

The EPI report noted that New York, Hawaii, and California have already started to develop protection programs for domestic workers.

The report also recommended establishing paid sick days, a stronger safety net and raising the minimum wage which would help to buoy the pay earned by in-home workers.

In a press release on the EPI report, economist Heidi Shierholz said that in-home workers are “a critical and growing part of the economy, yet, they are grievously underpaid and lack the benefits that similar workers receive in other sectors.”

Shierholz continued: “Our country is wealthy enough so that workers who play such vital caretaking roles should be able to earn a decent wage. We need policies to protect these workers and help ensure they’re paid what they deserve.”

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December 19, 2013

By Jazelle Hunt

NNPA Washington Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON (NNPA) —Still reeling from the Great Recession, middle class Blacks are maintaining their status by using credit to help cover their basic living expenses, according to a report from the NAACP and public policy research organization, Demos.

In the Recession’s aftermath, 79 percent of middle class African American households carry credit card debt. And although they have less debt than before the Recession, the credit crunch continues as Black households spend an average $368 on credit to make ends meet.

“The report highlights the need to look at how much credit is serving middle class Americans and how much it’s giving a false illusion,” says Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, senior director of the NAACP Econ­omic Department and co-author of the study. “Everybody needs credit but it should be a tool to help your economic life. Now we see it as a drain on African Ameri­cans trying to gain a middle class life.”

Released earlier this month, the report, “The Challenge of Credit Card Debt for the African American Middle Class,” is an outgrowth of a larger national study on middle class credit card debt since 2010. It found that although African Americans owe less than they did in 2008, 42 percent of households are relying on their cards for basic living expenses when their incomes and savings fall short, a trend that persists across the entire middle class. Black families are also building their futures on credit, using cards to support higher education, entrepreneurship, and medical expenses.

“Use of credit in long term investments for the future is a specific African American problem, largely because of the historical impact of racism in wealth building, and current racial bias in lending,” says Demos policy analyst, Catherine Ruethschlin, who co-authored the study. “Hypothetically, if [an African American] family was in America during the ‘60s but excluded from the same wealth-building that White families had, [they] don’t have the same financial assets to fall back on.”

The seeds for economic dispartities seen today have been sown over 50 years of redlining, blockbusting, and predatory lending. Today Black Americans have $1 in assets for every $20 owned by White Ameri­cans, and, according to the study, more than half of it is tied to homeownership.

Enter the Great Recession, when the housing bubble inflated by predatory lending practices bursts, dragging the global economy and hope for long-term Black wealth down with it. Only 55 percent of the study’s Black respondents own their home, compared to the 72 percent of White respondents.

If homeownership has been considered the cornerstone of the American Dream, then education has been considered the bulldozer that clears the way. According to the report, 80 percent of Black college grads took out some amount of loans in order to attain a higher education, compared to 65 percent of Whites.

Credit debt as a result of student loans can then affect career outcomes, as credit checks are sometimes part of the hiring process. Those with poor credit are often relegated to low-paying jobs due to this dubious but legal practice.

For this and other reasons, entrepreneurship has also been considered a path to the good life. In the study, an overwhelming 99 percent of indebted moderate-income African American households who had expenses related to starting or running a business in the past three years still carry that expense on their credit card bill.

Ruethschlin explains, “If you don’t have access to small business loans because the market went dry during the Recession, those with the worst credit history are going to be the last to get back into the system. It shifts an additional financial burden. It could be those additional challenged that make it harder to run a successful business.”

Interestingly, Black and White households reported different reasons for poor credit: 44 percent of White respondents cited late mortgage payments and using all or nearly all of their credit lines while 40 percent of Black households cited late student loan payments and credit report errors.

However varied the causes, middle class credit use and debt levels are similar across race—it’s the consequences that raise eyebrows.

“I’d assume before this report that there would be greater disparities [in card use], but even the amount of debt we have is not that different,” Asante-Muhammad says. “What is different is that we have worse credit scored and  receive stronger collection tactics.”

The report found that African Americans and Whites had similar rates of card default, late payments, bankruptcy, eviction, and repossession. However, 71 percent of African American households had been called by bill collectors, compared to 50 percent of White households. African Americans in the report were also more likely to report card cancellations, limit reductions, or credit rejections in the last three years (53 percent of Black respondents compared to 36 percent of Whites).

Even if credit score isn’t a problem, indebted African American households face higher interest rates, reporting an average APR of 17.7 percent on the card where they carry the greatest balance. For White households it’s 15.8 percent.

Despite this, African American respondents were less likely to moderate their card use as a result of higher rates, which suggested to the authors that Black households have less of a choice in staying afloat.

“It’s not surprising that the middle class relies on credit cards to get their expenses met,” says Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending. “When we think of the catastrophe caused by the Recession, most families didn’t have wealth resources necessary to fall back on. Our own reports show that the typical household only has about $100 left over every month after needs are met.”

The government stepped in in 2008 with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which has helped at least a third of the African American respondents in the study pursue financial freedom. The CARD Act attempts to create a more equitable and less predatory credit climate for all Americans through billing transparency and plain-language credit terms and conditions.

“The CARD Act has been really useful and is working in the manner intended,” Bailey says. “What’s unique about the Act is that it provides transparency around credit bills without the bait-and-switch we saw before the act. Late fees have dropped more than half, and credit delinquency is the lowest it’s been since 1994.”

In its first year alone, the CARD Act halved the amount of late fees Americans paid, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most Americans have noticed a warning on their bill about the consequences of making a late payment (77 percent of Americans), or only paying the minimum (70 percent).

Bailey believes that with support, these trends in greater credit debt management will result in restored homeownership, stronger communities, and a strong economy overall. The report makes similar assertions and offers both state and federal policy recommendations for fostering fairness in the credit industry, including an expansion of the CARD Act’s success.

“Too often people fall into the false narrative of African Americans that the wealth disparity is due to undisciplined spending habits, but if you look at the report you see that they’re using credit for basic living expenses,” Asante-Muhammad points out. “The problem isn’t around spending, the problem is income inequality, wealth inequality, and a decline in opportunity for middle class African Americans as a whole.”

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