Disparate Recoveries: Wealth, Race, and the Working Class after the Great Recession

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The Great Recession caused a seismic shock to the economic status of many Americans, but the recovery in the decade that followed (2010-2019) further heightened the racial wealth gap in America.

Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), this report, published in the May 2021 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, explores the varying recoveries experienced following the Great Recession based on one’s race, class, and professional level.

Key Findings

  • During the recession, Black and Latino households lost 48 and 44 percent of their wealth, respectively, while white households lost just 26 percent. As of 2019, Black households held less than fifteen percent of the net worth of white households.
  • The authors classified individuals and households according to both race (non-Latino Black, non-Latino white and Latino) and class (working class or professional managerial class, based on occupations).
  • While economic outcomes improved for most non-Black households between 2010 and 2019, few Black households could keep up. The percentage of both Black professional-class and working-class households who were middle-class or above fell between 2010 and 2019.
    • While economic outcomes improved for most non-Black households between 2010 and 2019, few Black households could keep up. The percentage of both Black professional-class and working-class households who were middle-class or above fell between 2010 and 2019.
  • Black and Latino-led households were less likely than white households to achieve these higher thresholds of wealth — regardless of whether they belonged to the professional or working class.
  • When a household’s net worth is not enough to cover three months of the federal annual poverty threshold (at $2,100 a month), a household is classified as “wealth poor.”
    • The proportion of “wealth poor” families decreased from 2010 to 2019 across most racial and professional categories, but it increased among Black professionals.
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