Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 25, 2019

NY Times: Closing The Racial Wealth Gap

New York Times op-ed:  Closing the Racial Wealth Gap, by Courtney E. Martin (author, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream (2016)):

The United States tolerates a widening chasm between the very rich few and the many with low incomes. Even more shameful, the burden of poverty falls heaviest on African-Americans and other people of color.

In her 2018 book, Give People Money, the journalist Annie Lowrey delivered a stinging criticism of the ways in which the United States has essentially won the race to the bottom when it comes to distribution of wealth:

“We tolerate levels of poverty that are grotesque and entirely unique among developed nations.”

She was speaking not just about cold hard cash and other forms of wealth, but also about the way race still shapes who is preposterously rich and who remains predictably poor.

It’s likely that you’ve seen the statistics: The median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median African-American family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family. And things are getting worse, not better: The proportion of black families with zero or negative wealth rose by 8.5 percent to 37 percent between 1983 and 2016.

The economic precariousness among Americans has become notoriously widespread, but it’s the worst for African-Americans without a high school diploma, over half of whom couldn’t handle an unexpected expense as low as $400 with their current income.

But the statistics only tell the surface story. There is real psychological, social and even moral side effects of this enduring gap. Milicent Johnson, the San Francisco planning commissioner who has led many efforts to address economic inequality, describes the daily toll that the racial wealth gap has had in her own life. Even as she has transcended the poverty of her childhood, the weight remains: “The feeling that the bottom could always drop out of your financial life, and the ever-present knowledge that you’re likely not in the same boat as your white peers, even if you appear to have the same level of professional success, takes a daily toll.” ...

[R]acism eats wealth for breakfast. ...

It’s easy to feel despondent after digging into this issue, and yet there are a wide-range of responses right now in the United States aimed at addressing it. In the coming weeks, I will explore some of these, starting with an unprecedented effort in San Francisco to end one of the country’s most pernicious forms of “wealth-stripping.”

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