News Column

Racial Wealth Gap Widening

Feb 28, 2013

By Christine Dugas

The wealth gap between white and African-American families has nearly tripled over 25 years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

African-American family income has risen, but white families have accumulated more. The study found the gap between white and African-American family wealth rose from $85,070 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.

Homeownership has been the biggest cause of wealth disparity, followed by income, the study found. In the past 25 years, education has failed to be the great equalizer that many expected.

Owning a home has largely benefited whites because they're more able to get family financial assistance for down payments, have easier access to credit and buy homes years earlier than African-American families. Their equity has risen, providing wealth and financial security.

In contrast, the study found, African Americans are more recent homeowners who tend to have high-risk mortgages and to be more vulnerable to foreclosure.

In the past 25 years, it's been harder for African Americans to build income and have a cushion, fueling inequality, the study says.

Although more African Americans are going to college, fewer finish with a degree than white students. The skyrocketing cost of education is contributing to the racial gap in college completion, says Thomas Shapiro, IASP director. Among graduates, more blacks than whites are weighed down by student debt.

The recession worsened the gap, says Rakesh Kochhar, a researcher at the Pew Research Center. African Americans were more likely to be jobless and had to deplete savings.

In recent years, black Americans have been less likely than whites to have a retirement plan at work, says University of California-Berkeley research. Poverty among black seniors was 19.4%, vs. 9.4% for the general senior population from 2008 to 2010.

IASP suggests developing more affordable and high-quality education and diverse neighborhoods.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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