Matteo Ricci College
Poverty Education Center

PEC Blog Post

  • The wealth gap between black and white Americans

    New research sheds a different light on inequality in the United States. Certainly African-Americans all too often have unequal access to jobs, education, and civil rights compared to white Americans. Good news might seem to be that the income gap between black and white Americans has lessened in recent decades--but even that story masks persistent disparities.

    "When you zero in on income, African Americans would seem to have gained significant ground since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Today, for instance, the difference between the percentage of white and black households earning $50,000 and $75,000 is within shouting distance18.7 for whites versus 15.1 percent for blacks, according to the Census Bureau. But look at the respective wealth of white and black America, and you get the real story. In 1984, the median working-age white family had inflation-adjusted assets worth $90,851, compared with a net worth of only $5,781 for the median black family of working age. (Focusing on working-age families yields a subject group older and relatively more prosperous than the aggregate but is easier to track over time; the inequality ratio for the overall white and black populations is actually even higher.) A quarter century later, the median white wealth had jumped to $265,000, while median black wealth was just $28,500. The racial wealth gap among working-age families, in other words, is a stunning $236,500, and there is every reason to believe that figure has widened in the five years since."

    What to do about this problem? The article in the New Republic has a number of suggestions, including "baby bonds," an asset accumulation program that would start at birth, with subsidies for households below median wealth. It's a provocative perspective on the disadvantages that blacks can endure compared to whites, and how possibly to correct such historic injustices.

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