The wealth gap between blacks and whites in the U.S. has drastically widened in the last 25 years, nearly tripling since the days of the Reagan administration, according to a new report from Brandeis University.
According to the study, “The dramatic gap in household wealth that now exists along racial lines in the United States cannot be attributed to personal ambition and behavioral choices, but rather reflects policies and institutional practices that create different opportunities for whites and African-Americans.”
One of the major factors in the wealth divide was exemplified in home ownership and historic governmental policies that have created vast disparities in ownership opportunities over the years—accounting for over 25 percent of the gap.
Subsequently, the wealth gap was drastically widened in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis—with half the collective wealth of African-American families "stripped away during the Great Recession," when the wealth gap between whites and African-Americans nearly doubled.
"The gap presents an opportunity denied for many African American households and assures racial economic inequality for the next generation," Tatjana Meschede, a co-author of the study, stated.
The report states:
In 2009, a representative survey of American households revealed that the median wealth of white families was $113,149 compared with $6,325 for Latino families and $5,677 for black families.
Looking at the same set of families over a 25-year period (1984-2009), our research offers key insight into how policy and the real, lived-experience of families in schools, communities, and at work affect wealth accumulation. Tracing the same households during that period, the total wealth gap between white and African-American families nearly triples, increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009. [...]
Our analysis found little evidence to support common perceptions about what underlies the ability to build wealth, including the notion that personal attributes and behavioral choices are key pieces of the equation. Instead, the evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools, and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life.
Providing further context, Jamelle Bouie at the American Prospect writes Wednesday:
It's fitting Brandeis released this report during a week where the Supreme Court will debate a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. The nut of the argument—aimed at a provision requiring federal scrutiny for districts with histories of racial discrimination in voting—is that we're past the problems of overt racism. [...]
[However] much of the actual structure of racism remains, and that's a much larger obstacle to equality of opportunity. Unfortunately, few Americans understand the extent to which anti-black racism was an organizing principle for public policy through much of 19th and 20th centuries. To borrow from The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, "It is not enough to merely understand segregation as a means to keep the 'races' separate. Segregation [was] about rendering black people a permanent underclass."
The truth of that is plain in the history of American housing policy. For decades, policymakers at all levels of government worked to keep African Americans out of good housing and good neighborhoods, confining them to low-income areas with poor services and worse opportunities. The explicit goal was to limit black mobility—and it worked. The policies were a huge success.