clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The median wealth for whites in the US is nearly $142,000. For blacks, it's $11,000.

Owning a home is a huge, huge part of wealth-building.
Owning a home is a huge, huge part of wealth-building.

Everyone knows inequality is growing in the US, but a new Pew report shows how stark that divide is by race and ethnicity: the median household headed by a white person has a net worth 13 times greater than the median black-headed household. And for whites and Hispanics, the gap is tenfold. In both cases, those gaps are growing.

Pew wealth inequality

Source: Pew Research Center (see Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances for information on racial and ethnic classification)

Pew used data from the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances, released every three years, to create this report, and it shows some staggering gaps in wealth — notice that the chart above is logarithmic (i.e., it goes $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, etc.). To get a clearer picture of how much white wealth dwarfs the wealth of blacks and Hispanics, see the below chart.

Pew wealth race gap 2

One other upsetting wrinkle: these gaps exist even regardless of income, as Demos' Matt Bruenig showed earlier this year. Likewise, he has shown that racial and ethnic wealth gaps exist regardless of education.

Wealth by income and race

Source: Demos

Okay, so why is this happening? 2013 research from Brandeis University (and highlighted in Dean Starkman's June New Republic article) shows that the five biggest components in the growing gap between whites and blacks are (in order, from biggest to smallest) years of homeownership, income, unemployment, college education, and inheritance. Though the report focuses only on blacks and whites without separating out Latinos, it at least provides a window into how whole races or ethnic groups can end up with such huge wealth disparities.

Residential segregation is a big reason homeownership has created a big divide between blacks and whites, the researchers write, as it "artificially lowers demand" and therefore makes building equity tougher in a nonwhite neighborhood. And because whites tend to have more family inheritance and financial help, they also tend to buy homes earlier, giving them more time to build equity. Historic discrimination in mortgage lending added to this gap, as well as the fact that blacks have more of their wealth tied up in their homes than whites do. That means that when the housing crash came, it had a bigger impact on blacks than whites.

The intertwined racial gaps in income, employment, and education all add to this as well, making it harder to get the money with which to build wealth. Add to that the fact that blacks also tend to graduate college with more student debt than whites, and building wealth (even with a good education and a good job) gets all the harder. And as there are also employment, income, and education achievement gaps between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites as well, the same factors might be at work in creating that wealth gap.

Correction: In one instance, this article mistakenly used the word "income" where "wealth" should have been used.