Racial Wealth Gap May be a Key to Other Inequities

The wealth gap between Black and white Americans has been persistent and extreme, writes Liz Mineo. It represents, scholars say, the accumulated effects of four centuries of institutional and systemic racism and bears major responsibility for disparities in income, health, education, and opportunity that continue to this day, she said.

Consider that right now the net wealth of a typical Black family in America is around one-tenth that of a white family, according to the Harvard Gazette. A 2018 analysis of U.S. incomes and wealth written by economists Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins and published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded, “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

It’s no surprise. After the end of slavery and the failed Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, which existed till the late 1960s, virtually ensured that Black Americans in the South would not be able to accumulate or to pass on wealth, the story reads. And through the Great Migration and after, African Americans faced employment, housing, and educational discrimination across the country. After World War II many white veterans were able to take advantage of programs like the GI Bill to buy homes — the largest asset held by most American families — with low-interest loans, but lenders often unfairly turned down Black applicants, shutting those vets out of the benefit, according to Mineo. (As of the end of 2020 the homeownership rate for Black families stood at about 44 percent, compared with 75 percent for white families, according to the Census Bureau) the author states. Redlining — typically the systemic denial of loans or insurance in predominantly minority areas — held down property values and hampered African American families’ ability to live where they chose, she said.

Read the full story from the Harvard Gazette.

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