Reforming the U.S. tax code to help low-income Americans build wealth and savings while reducing wealth concentration at the top would go a long way toward narrowing an "ever-growing gap" between white households and households of color, according to a new study released this week.
The report from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), entitled The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come (pdf), reveals a stark and widening chasm that—absent significant reforms to large-scale public policies—will only continue to grow.
Specifically, it finds that:
- Over the past 30 years the average wealth of white families has grown by 84 percent—1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and three times the rate of growth for the black population.
- Over the past 30 years, the wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans has grown by an average of 736 percent—10 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and 27 times the rate of growth for the black population.
- In fact, the billionaires of the Forbes 400—which includes only two African-Americans and five Latinos—now own more wealth than the entire Black population and one-third of the Latino population, combined. That's 400 wealthy individuals versus more than 60 million people.
- By 2043—the year in which it is projected that people of color will make up a majority of the U.S. population—the wealth divide between white families and Latino and black families will have doubled, on average, from about $500,000 in 2013 to over $1 million.
"In short," Emanuel Nieves and Josh Hoxie (of CFED and IPS, respectively) write in a blog post on Tuesday, "wealth is concentrated in very few hands. And those hands are mostly white."
Given, as the report puts it, "the essential role that wealth plays in achieving financial security and opportunity" as well as changing demographics in the U.S., this divide represents an urgent dilemma to be solved.
"This growing wealth divide is no accident. Rather, it is the natural result of public policies past and present that have either been purposefully or thoughtlessly designed to widen the economic chasm between white households and households of color and between the wealthy and everyone else."
—The Ever-Growing Gap"The racial wealth divide is how the past shows up in the present," Chuck Collins, director of IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good, told The Nation. "We have a deep legacy of wealth inequality that undermines the whole idea that we have a meritocracy—that there's an equal playing field."
Indeed, the report reads: "This growing wealth divide is no accident. Rather, it is the natural result of public policies past and present that have either been purposefully or thoughtlessly designed to widen the economic chasm between white households and households of color and between the wealthy and everyone else. In the absence of significant reforms, the racial wealth divide—and overall wealth inequality—are on track to become even wider in the future."
Among those reforms, as proposed in the new analysis:
- Replace the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions—which primarily benefit wealthy households and cost the government over $100 billion a year—with tax benefits that encourage and support homeownership among low-wealth families and communities of color.
- Strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as a financial security tool by expanding eligibility for the credit to low-wealth workers and those without dependents and by allowing and incentivizing families to save a portion of their EITC as emergency savings for later in the year.
- Remove barriers to retirement savings by providing low-wealth families and households of color a simple, safe and affordable retirement savings product.
- Ensure that every child in the United States starts off with a small nest egg for his or her future in the form of a Children's Savings Account (CSA) opened automatically at birth.
On the other end of the spectrum, to address "the destabilization caused by concentrated wealth and power," the report recommends:
- Strengthening and closing loopholes in the federal estate tax;
- Creating "an annual net worth tax on wealth over $50 million or a similarly high threshold, at a low rate of one to two percent;" and
- Re-instituting estate taxes on the state level.
"Federal policymakers have a clear choice to make," said Collins. "They can allow this pattern to continue and set our country on a road to economic devastation, or they can stop facilitating the wealth divide and start expanding opportunities to boost wealth for all families, especially households of color."