A publication of the Institute for Policy Studies
In our 2016 report, The Ever-Growing Gap: Without Change, African American and Latino Families Won’t Match White Wealth for Centuries, we showed that it if current trends continue, it will take 228 years for the average Black family to reach the level of wealth White families own today. For the average Latino family, matching the wealth of White families will take 84 years.
In this report, we look at the racial wealth divide at the median over the next four and eight years, as well as to 2043, when the country’s population is predicted to become majority non-white. We also look to wealth rather than income to reconsider what it means to be middle class. In finding an ever-accelerating gap, we consider what it means for the American middle class and we explore what policy interventions could reverse the trends we see today. We find that without a serious change in course, the country is heading towards a racial and economic apartheid state.
ILLUSTRATING THE MAGNITUDE OF THE RACIAL WEALTH DISPARITY
• Earning a middle-class income does not guarantee middle-class economic security. White households in the middle-income quintile (those earning $37,201-$61,328 annually) own nearly eight times as much wealth ($86,100) as middle-income Black earners ($11,000) and ten times as much wealth as middle-income Latino earners ($8,600). This disconnect in income earned and wealth owned is visible across the entire income spectrum between these groups.
• If the middle class were to be defined by wealth rather than by income, Black and Latino families in the middle-income quintile would need to earn 2-3 times as much as White families in order to enter the middle class. If we were to define the middle class in terms of wealth, households would need to own between $68,000-$204,000 in wealth to qualify for the middle class. Under these terms, only Black and Latino households in the highest income-quintile (those earning more than $104,509) would qualify for middle-class status or higher, compared to White households in the top three income-quintiles who already own wealth in excess of this threshold. In fact, only Black and Latino households with an advanced degree have enough wealth to be considered middle-class, whereas all White households with a high school diploma or higher would be considered middle class.
• Defining class in terms of wealth instead of income, roughly 70% of Black and Latino households would fall below the $68,000 threshold needed for middle-class status, whereas only about 40% of White households would fall below the middle class. In contrast, roughly 13% of Black and Latino households could be considered to have “upper-wealth” (meaning they own at least $204,000 in wealth), compared to 40% of White households.
• The accelerating decline in wealth over the past 30 years has left many Black and Latino families unable to reach the middle class. Between 1983 and 2013, the wealth of median Black and Latino households decreased by 75% (from $6,800 to $1,700) and 50% (from $4,000 to $2,000), respectively, while median White household wealth rose by 14% (from $102,200 to $116,800). If current trends continue, by 2020 median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18% and 12%, respectively, of the wealth they held in 2013. In that same timeframe, median White household wealth would see an increase of 3%. Put differently, in just under four years from now, median White households are projected to own 86 and 68 times more wealth than Black and Latino households, respectively.
• By 2024, median Black and Latino households are projected to own 60-80% less wealth than they did in 1983. By then, the continued rise in racial wealth inequality between median Black, Latino and White households is projected to lead White households to own 99 and 75 times more wealth than their Black and Latino counterparts, respectively.
• If the racial wealth divide is left unaddressed and is not exacerbated further over the next eight years, median Black household wealth is on a path to hit zero by 2053—about 10 years after it is projected that racial minorities will comprise the majority of the nation’s population. Median Latino household wealth is projected to hit zero twenty years later, or by 2073. In sharp contrast, median White household wealth would climb to $137,000 by 2053 and $147,000 by 2073.
POLICY INTERVENTIONS TO ADDRESS A GROWING CRISIS
• Change our nation’s tax code to stop subsidizing the already-wealthy and start investing in opportunities for low-wealth families to build wealth. Specifically, reform the mortgage interest deduction and other tax expenditures, bolster and expand the federal estate tax, and create a net-worth tax on multi-million-dollar fortunes.
• Protect low-wealth families from wealth-stripping practices by strengthening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and closing the nefarious offshore tax shelters currently enabling the ultra-wealthy to hide their assets.
• Invest in bold new programs like Children’s Savings Accounts, automatic-enrollment retirement accounts, federal jobs guarantees and a racial wealth divide audit of government policies, all of which are vital to reducing the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of the country.