Racial Wealth Inequality Overlooked as Cause of Urban Unrest, Study Says
DURHAM, N.C. – More than 50 years ago, riots tore through many U.S. cities, prompting national scrutiny of the root causes. Yet a half-century later, says new research, a key contributor to the social upheaval of the 1960s remains under-explored: racial wealth inequality.
Meanwhile, the racial wealth gap that helped fuel the urban violence of the 1960s has only grown, says new research from Duke University, UCLA and the New School.
“Los Angeles may be headed into a new round of problems given growing economic inequality and declining housing affordability,” the authors write.
The 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles were among many urban uprisings of the late 1960s that led President Lyndon B. Johnson to create the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, or Kerner Commission. The unrest also spurred California’s McCone Commission report.
Both reports recommended addressing racial inequality through improved transportation, education, better policing and more affordable rental housing. Both cited poor housing conditions as the most severe root cause of rioting.
But they missed the importance of barriers to wealth creation and home ownership by black and Latino residents as a contributing cause, the study says. Neither study commission recommended policies that would have supported wealth-building for households from those communities, such as ending discriminatory mortgage lending practices, curbing residential segregation, and, generally, increasing access to assets.
“Inquiries like the Kerner Commission’s and the McCone Commission’s, as well as those undertaken by academic researchers, consistently have looked exclusively at income and earnings – and have ignored wealth,” said co-author William Darity Jr. “But wealth deprivation seems to have played an important role in producing urban uprisings in black and Latino communities. Los Angeles provides a powerful illustration.” Darity is a professor of public policy, African-American studies and economics and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.
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