Racial inequality is alive and well. According to a new study, the wealth gap between African-American and white families has tripled in the past quarter century. The study, conducted by Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy, found that the gap between white and African-American family wealth increased from $85,070 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009, with African-Americans making less than whites. The biggest culprit of the disparity: homeownership, followed by income. Thanks to racial discrimination in the job market, it's harder for African-Americans to build income, according to the study, and they tend to be more vulnerable to home foreclosure.
Many Americans still believe that racial inequality is related to individual behavior, choices, character, marriage and child bearing, says Thomas Shapiro, IASP director. But homeownership has been the biggest cause of racial wealth disparity, followed by income, the study found. In the past 25 years, education has failed to be the great equalizer that many expected.
Owning a home has largely benefited white families because they're more able to have family financial assistance for down payments, have easier access to credit and buy homes years earlier than African-American families. As a result, their home equity has increased, providing more wealth and financial security.
In contrast, the study found, African Americans are more recent homeowners who tended to have high-risk mortgages and to be more vulnerable to home foreclosure.
The nation has long-standing roots in racial discrimination in hiring, training and promotion, and in the past 25 years, that has made it harder for African Americans to build income and have a financial cushion, fueling racial inequality, the study says.
Although more African Americans are going to college, fewer finish with a degree than white students. The skyrocketing cost of education is contributing to the racial gap in college completion, Shapiro says. Among graduates, more blacks than whites are weighed down by student debt.
Among other findings included in the study:
1. Tracing the same households over 25
years, the total wealth gap between
white and African-American families
nearly triples, increasing from $85,000
in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.
2. The biggest drivers of the growing
racial wealth gap are:
• Years of homeownership
• Household income
• Unemployment, which is much
more prominent among African-
• A college education
• Inheritance, financial supports
by families or friends, and
preexisting family wealth.
3.Equal achievements, such as income
gains, yield unequal wealth rewards
for whites and African-Americans.
The IASP suggests, among other things, that to close the racial wealth gap, that policymakers and advocates come together to develop more affordable and high-quality education and diverse neighborhoods -- eliminating the persistence of residential segregation.