Wealth gaps were significant even before the recession, with African Americans less likely to own homes, hold stock, or have significant savings. Not only were African Americans more likely to have debt, but also African American debt was more likely to come from high-interest credit cards, while others had lower-interest bank debt.
Can the gap between African American wealth and that of others ever be closed? It’s unlikely given that unequal wealth is a function of history. In other words, income is a snapshot of what is happening today, but wealth is the history of you and your family.
The very wealthy pass on estates that may shape life chances for several generations. Those who were enslaved, generally, had little to leave.
Often those who were thrifty enough to accumulate found their wealth blatantly stolen by envious Whites. The destruction of Black Wall Street had nothing to do with the fact that a Black teenager allegedly jostled a White woman in an elevator, and everything to do with the thriving Black middle class in Tulsa, Okla.
The next time you hear about economic recovery ask “whose recovery has this been?” Some have escaped from the Great Recession unscathed. Others, especially some African Americans, Latinos, the young, and those who remain unemployed, have yet to experience economic recovery.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washinton, D.C.-based economist and author.
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