A new study shows that in the last 23 years, the gap between the average net worth of African-American families and white families has more than quadrupled.
In examining data from 1984 to 2007, Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy found that the average white family now has accumulated $95,000 more in total wealth than the average African-American family. Also, one quarter of African-American families, the report notes, currently have no financial assets to protect themselves from financial ruin.
In a study published last year, the University of California, Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez found that income inequality in the U.S. had reached a record high in 2007. But the Brandeis study points to a “broken chain of achievement” among African-Americans that, even at relatively moderate levels of income, creates large disparities.
“By 2007, the average middle income white household accumulated $74,000,” the report’s authors note, “whereas average high income African Americans owned only $18,000.”
The report states the racial wealth gap results from historical and contemporary factors but the disturbing four fold increase in such a short time reflects public policies, such as tax cuts on investment income and inheritances which benefit the wealthiest, and redistribute wealth and opportunities.
Tax deductions for home mortgages, retirement accounts, and college savings all disproportionately benefit higher income families. At the same time, evidence from multiple sources demonstrates the powerful role of persistent discrimination in housing, credit, and labor markets. For example, African Americans and Hispanics were at least twice as likely to receive high cost home mortgages as whites with similar incomes.
The report also places a good bit of blame on the growth of predatory lenders targeting African-American communities. An independent Consumer Financial Product Protection Agency, like the body currently being debated in Congress, could help narrow the racial wealth gap by restricting payday lenders, high-cost lenders and check cashing stores, suggests the report.