America is heading toward “a racial and economic apartheid state.” As the country becomes more diverse, today’s wealth gaps between whites and non-whites are poised to grow unless government policies helping people build personal wealth are reformed.
That is the takeaway from a dramatic new report, “The Road to Zero Wealth,” co-authored by the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now. It finds America’s racial wealth gap is larger than thought and deepening. Ironically, the report comes as working-class whites who feel economically adrift helped elect a president and Congress to prioritize their community — as opposed to reviving everyone in a sinking middle class.
“We don’t know how to make sense of the two stories happening at the same time,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, and one of the report’s four co-authors. “One is overall inequality, which is happening to the bottom half of wage earners [including whites]. And then there’s the story of the legacy of racism and wealth and asset building, which is a longer story going back centuries. Both these things exist at the same time.”
“We’re missing the ways in which the overall inequalities that are affecting a lot of white working-class people are supercharging these racial wealth divides,” Collins continued. “So you have a white working class that legitimately feels like they have been betrayed or left behind, and they can’t hear the story of the racial dimensions of this because they are feeling their own pain. So how do we recognize that those two stories exist and they are intertwined and connected? And a lot of times, the solutions would be good for everyone who has been left out — free education would be a good thing; raising the minimum wage would help all kinds of low-wage workers.”
The report tells a stark story by using a new way to measure personal wealth — it doesn’t count assets that fall in value like cars and household appliances.
“A disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth is held in white hands, while households of color own a shrinking slice of the proverbial pie,” it says. “Today, this translates into a racial wealth divide in which the median net worth of black and Latino families stands at just $11,000 and $14,000, respectively — a fraction of the $134,000 owned by the median white family. Even more disturbing is that when consumer durable goods such as automobiles, electronics and furniture are subtracted, median wealth for black and Latino families drops to $1,700 and $2,000, respectively, compared to $116,800 for white households.”