Racial Wealth Gap Reaches Historic Levels

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The wealth gap between whites and minorities has always been wide, but the recession has deepened the division to a record level.

The racial difference in wealth — how much a person owns minus any debt — is the most severe its been since the government began publishing the data in the 1970s, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

Members of the black middle class have seen many of the economic gains they’ve achieved over the past few decades erased or reversed during the recession, and black households have much less wealth than other groups. But Hispanic households experienced the biggest drop in household wealth during the recession:

Median Net Worth of Households
2005 2009 Percentage Change
White $134,992 $113,149 -6 percent
Black $12,124 $5,677 -53 percent
Hispanic $18,359 $6,325 -66 percent
(Source: Pew Research Center)

The housing crisis is one of the principal causes of the gap widening, according to the report. Hispanics and blacks had more of their wealth tied up in home equity, so when home values dropped or homes went into foreclosure, they saw much of their wealth disappear.

The study examined wealth between 2005 and 2009. Since then, housing prices have risen, particularly in D.C. But an increased home value may not be enough to offset lasting effects of the recession on minorities, as NPR reports:

Tom Shapiro of Brandeis University, who has studied the racial wealth gap for years, says he’s concerned about the long-term impact. He thinks the wealth gap will likely grow even more, unless the economy turns around soon.

“If a family doesn’t have enough for a safety net for itself, it can’t think about moving forward or moving ahead,” he says.

That means fewer resources for things like education or buying a house or starting a business. Shapiro says that only puts the average minority family further behind, and less able to weather the next economic storm.

  • Akira6766

    The ratio’s have absolutely no meaning, if you look at the differences the gaps have actually decreased. I’m a second year mathematician, I know it “sounds” bad when it’s described as 20 or 18 times bigger but it doesn’t mean a damned thing. The absolute value of the “gap” has decreased, whether the ratios increased or not! 

    2005 gaps:
    White – Hispanic -> 116,633,
    Asian – Hispanic -> 149,744
    White – Black -> 122,868,
    Asian – Black -> 155,979

    2009 gaps:
    White – Hispanic -> 106,824, 
    Asian – Hispanic -> 71,741,
    White – Black -> 107,472, 
    Asian – Black -> 72,389

    Each number is the difference between the first mentioned and the second. The difference between Asians and blacks/hispanics is dramatically lower. Lets also include the fact the richest people in the country are probably white or asian and skew the results here dramatically. It’s all relative for goodness sake. ~_~

    Data from: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/26/138688135/study-shows-racial-wealth-gap-grows-wider?sc=fb#commentBlock 

  • Jes1984

    Everything you said is contradictory.  You present absolute differences and then you conclude by saying that is all relative.   Actually, it is relative…while whites only lost 6% of their wealth, blacks lost of 50%.  These percentages have vastly different impacts on people’s lifestyles…whatever the absolute value of the difference.

  • Justin

    Akira, I am not sure what a “Second-year mathematician” is supposed to mean. But if by this you mean that this is only your second year learning math, well, your comment would back that up.

    Yes, the absolute difference has reduced but the only people who would cite absolute difference are those who have a political ax to grind and who take a very simplistic view at math. (I  bet you support a flat tax don’t you?)

    You say “it’s all relative” and yes this is true. This is EXACTLY why people who understand statistics and math use relativistic figures like ratios.

    Also, aside from your math, you may want to check your reading comprehension as well. The study references income MEDIANS. “Why?” you ask. Because taking median incomes acts to negate the effects that outliers might have in skewing figures. I bring this up because you felt the need to point out that rich whites and Asians would  “skew the results here dramatically” )