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Professor: The Wealth Gap is a Systemic Issue We Haven’t Addressed

Spectrum Local News


RALEIGH, N.C. – Antoine Marshall, 33, is a Raleigh attorney, who’s now working from home, just like 30-year-old Wes Tripp, who’s also a Raleigh attorney.

They both entered this profession hoping to make a difference. And both had expectations of going to college after high school, but that’s where the similarities stop.

“My story as an African American is pretty unique,” Marshall said. “I’m a fourth generation college student. Just about everybody in my family has college degrees. I’m not the first person in my family to get an advanced degree.”

“I remember growing up, my parents never pushed me or forced me to go a certain route, but college was always the expectation, because they didn’t go to college,” Tripp said. “But they knew that going to college was the ticket to a better career, better success, better life outcomes.”

But a better education wasn’t everybody’s expectations for Marshall. It’s something he realized after moving to Raleigh when he was 10.

“I grew up thinking everybody went to college, college was the 13th grade,” Marshall said. “That was just the normal. And then when I came down here and realized that wasn’t everybody’s expectations and not only was that not everybody’s expectations, but for some people those were not their expectations for me.”

For both men, continuing their education meant a path for success. And for Marshall it was a better chance at bridging the wealth gap in America, or was it?

The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances shows the median net worth of college graduates in 2016 was nearly $400,000 for White families, but well below $100,000 for Black families.

“Just the sheer size of the wealth disparity, it’s just incredible. It’s one of those things that you look at and you try not to lose hope in terms of the gap,” said Henry McKoy, a professor at the N.C. Central University School of Business.

He shows his students numbers like this in hopes of inspiring the next generation.

“I have to do it in a gentle way because on one hand I want to really shake my students to really want to make a change and to go out and fight this every day,” McKoy said. “At the same time, I don’t want them to feel hopeless.”

The wealth gap has actually widened over the last 50 years. The most recent data from 2016 shows the median net worth of a White family is about 10 times as much as a Black family.

“When Dr. King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which a lot of people like to use as this watershed moment, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites is the same as it was in 1963, when he gave that speech,” McKoy said. “That’s why it’s really important to understand the factors behind this.”

Factors that have always been present in our country.

“The reason that you have the wealth gap is that you can look at program after program, instance after instance, and see how the Black community has been discriminated against,” McKoy said. “And so if you do that long enough, you’re going to have these kind of gaps.”

Just as policies have widened these gaps, policy changes would be needed to create an equitable system.

“It’s systemic. And it’s an issue that we haven’t addressed,” Tripp said.

“We need specific policies that focus on healing the issues that we’ve had in the past,” Marshall said. “Part of that requires a diverse group of people sitting at a table making these policies.”

Both Tripp and Marshall are hopeful for the changes, especially for the generations to come.

“I remember the conversations that my dad had with me when I was 8, 9, 10,” Marshall said. “And that I’m looking at having with my daughters in the next two to three years. When they understand that these disparities exist and the impact of these disparities.”