In D.C., White Families Are on Average 81 Times Richer Than Black Ones

Saturday, November 26, 2016
The Atlantic

The wealth discrepancy between blacks and whites is one of the most stark examples of inequality in America. White American families have, on average, around $142,000 in savings and assets, minus debt. Black families’, meanwhile, amounted to only $11,000, according to a 2014 Pew Research study. The gulf between black and white wealth is the worst it has been since the 1980s. Put differently, an average white family has 13 times the wealth of an average black family.

But as though the median numbers for the country as a whole weren’t bad enough, things look much worse in America’s cities, according to a new paper from the Urban institute—even cities such as D.C. where the prevalence of public-sector jobs, a large black population, and a high share of black business owners might make it seem like a place that black families could thrive. But in Washington D.C., the median white family has a staggering 81 times as much wealth as the median black family.

D.C. is not an outlier: In general, urban areas have much more severe racial inequalities, in part because of the concentration of white wealthy people, and the fact that their wealth has not “trickled down” to poor and middle-class black families. According to a 2015 National Asset Scorecard for Communities of Colors, D.C.’s racial wealth gap falls just behind Los Angeles’s, where median wealth for whites was closer to 89 times as much as blacks’. In Miami it was 30 times as high; in Tulsa, 18 times.

Darrick Hamilton, a professor at the New School and one of the authors of the Urban Institute’s study—along with fellow economists Kilolo Kijakazi, Rachel Marie Brooks Atkins, Mark Paul, Anne Price, and William A. Darity Jr.—says that while many ethnic groups might do poorly in one city and thrive in another, that’s not the case for black Americans. “No matter what the geographical context is, black Americans are a low-wealth group,” he told me. “I think the disparities are going to be dramatic wherever we look.”

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