Posted on May 1, 2013

Wealth Gap Among Races Has Widened Since Recession

Annie Lowrey, New York Times, April 28, 2013

Millions of Americans suffered a loss of wealth during the recession and the sluggish recovery that followed. But the last half-decade has proved far worse for black and Hispanic families than for white families, starkly widening the already large gulf in wealth between non-Hispanic white Americans and most minority groups, according to a new study from the Urban Institute.


Given the dynamics of the housing recovery and the rebound in the stock market, the wealth gap might still be growing, experts said, further dimming the prospects for economic advancement for current and future generations of Americans from minority groups.

The Urban Institute study found that the racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years. But when it comes to wealth — as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances — white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy.

The dollar value of that gap has grown, as well. By the most recent data, the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families.


Many experts consider the wealth gap to be more pernicious than the income gap, as it perpetuates from generation to generation and has a powerful effect on economic security and mobility. Young black people are much less likely than young white people to receive a large sum from their parents or other relatives to pay for college, start a business or make a down payment on a home, for instance. {snip}

Two major factors helped to widen this wealth gap in recent years. The first is that the housing downturn hit black and Hispanic households harder than it hit white households, in aggregate. {snip}


Discriminatory lending practices were also a factor. “We know that communities of color, their rate of subprime or predatory loans was twice what it is in the overall population,” said Tom Shapiro, the director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

Black families also suffered bigger hits to their retirement savings, the Urban Institute found. On aggregate, the value of black families’ retirement accounts shrank 35 percent between 2007 and 2010, while white families’ accounts actually gained 9 percent over the same period. {snip}


All in all, Hispanic families lost 44 percent of their wealth between 2007 and 2010, the Urban Institute estimates, and black families lost 31 percent. White families, by comparison, lost 11 percent of their wealth. The economic turbulence worsened a gap that has persisted for as long as social scientists have measured it, and has its roots in institutional racism, they said, which, for instance, prevented black Americans from benefiting fully from the G.I. Bill back in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Urban Institute study looked at mean wealth figures, where a small number of high-net-worth families skews the averages upward. Median wealth figures — where half of households have more wealth and half less — produces lower numbers, but the trends are the same, the Urban Institute researchers said.