The Median Net Worth of Black Bostonians Is Lower Than the Cost of Lunch

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
The Root

There isn’t a whole lot you can get in a major East Coast city for $8. Meals at most lunch spots, once you include tax, will run higher than that (a Shake Shack double costs $8.09, for example).

But that amount—a measly $8—is making the rounds thanks to a Boston Globe spotlight investigation that delves into the city’s history of racism.

Citing a study from 2015, “The Color of Wealth,” the Boston Globe listed the median wealth of a series of Bostonians based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. The median net worth for white households in Boston, for example, was $247,500. For Caribbean-born black people, it was $12,000.

But for blacks native to the U.S., the median net worth of an entire household was just $8. Some readers thought it was a typo, prompting the Globe to publish another article explaining that it wasn’t.

Put another way, that means the median white household in Boston is worth nearly 31,000 times more than a black American household.

Net worth was even lower for Dominicans living in the Boston area. The median net worth of their households was $0.

So how does this happen? It’s important to separate net worth (or wealth) from income. Wealth measures the total number of assets—both financial (your income, your 401[k], your life insurance) and tangible (your house, your car)—minus your total debt (your student loans, your mortgage, your credit card balances).

In 2015, the difference between black American Bostonians owning more than what they owed was one meal.

The reasons that black American households would have fewer assets and more debt are myriad and historical: Black Americans have been systematically denied access to assets (housing discrimination, job discrimination and the carceral state are but a few factors), while being uniquely vulnerable to debt. Even now, a relatively new phenomenon—the student loan crisis—disproportionately affects black grads.

Boston isn’t exactly atypical when it comes to racial wealth disparities, either. The gap is certainly starker, but study after study makes clear that the overall picture for black American wealth is bleak. One recent study found that black middle-class households nationwide were losing wealth—and if such trends continued, they were only a few decades away from having zero net worth.

In Boston, as with the rest of the country, the wealth gap isn’t accidental: Racially restrictive housing covenants were intentional. Redlining was intentional. Predatory loans were—and remain—intentional.

The worth of black American households in Boston isn’t a typo—nor is it a mistake.

Read the full article here.