How Homeownership Affects Greater Boston's 'Immense' Racial Wealth Gap

Thursday, September 22, 2016
WBUR-FM (90.9 FM)

Among the big themes of this year's presidential campaign is the growing gap between America's rich and its poor, which increasingly defines a number of American cities, including the Boston area. In June, we asked this question about Boston: How is it that a city with one of the country's most robust economies is also the American city with the highest rate of income inequality? In that story, we met J'Neen Skinner-Seney, who had made the transition from welfare to work, and told us about one of the major goals for her family: buying a kitchen table.

[The Skinner-Seney familiy] is part of the story of a city with a dramatic racial disparity in wealth, according Patricia Muñoz, an assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and author of a 2015 report, "The Color of Wealth in Boston."

"When you get deeper into the data, you really realize that the racial differences and ethnic differences are immense — especially in the Boston metro area," Muñoz said. Muñoz found a widening wealth gap along racial lines. Among her key findings: White households have a median net worth (the value of their assets minus their debts) of about a quarter of a million dollars. The median net worth of black households: almost zero. The report also found that black households — like Skinner-Seney's — have much more debt than white households. And almost 80 percent of white families own a home, while just a third of black families do.

Muñoz says that means blacks have much less ability than whites to pass wealth on to their children, perpetuating that racial wealth gap. "It's really the money that's passed down from generation to generation, so whites are more likely to get help to buy a house, more likely to help pay for education," Muñoz said. "So then you see the cumulative consequences reflected in that number."

Listen to WBUR's full story here: