The Racial Wealth Gap Is Ruining Black & Brown American Families (Video)

In 2013, Robert Reich featured prominently in a documentary entitled Inequality for All, which is a blistering critique of income inequality in the United States. Reich is a celebrated economist who has served in the administrations of presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton (under whom he served as Secretary of Labor) and who has lent his voice to raising awareness of what is really happening to the American economic class system. Buzz words like the 1%, occupying Wall Street, and a “disappearing middle class” have contributed to public awareness of the issue, but most of us are arguably far too uneducated about how severe the problems are. In fact, it is now commonly understood that the 20 wealthiest Americans have more assets than half of the population. In 2016, Reich is extending his analysis of the dire economic landscape even further, honing in on those who suffer the most: Americans of color.

In late 2015, The Nation published a scalding review of the income gap in this country, and the numbers seem to point to some nefarious behavior on the part of lawmakers, financial institutions, and others. For example, it was reported that “the 100 richest households own more assets than the entire African-American community” and “182 individuals on the Forbes list have more assets than America’s entire Hispanic population.” Keeping those figures in mind, Reich’s recent writings are a logical next step, as he examines what he calls “the racial wealth gap.” On his blog, he offers up some helpful definitions before launching into his analysis. “Wealth inequality is even more of a problem than income inequality. That’s because you have to have enough savings from income to begin to accumulate wealth – buying a house or investing in stocks and bonds, or saving up to send a child to college.” But, people of color have frequently experienced less opportunity for well-paying jobs, fewer avenues by which to experience upward mobility, more instances of unfair lending practices by financial institutions, and other obstacles which make saving money a laughable ideal. Two-thirds of African Americans, Reich says, live paycheck to paycheck, and so any chance of setting aside money in a savings account to accrue dividends and interests is greatly decreased. And that’s why wealth inequality is even more troublesome than income inequality: ”

But it’s not just having money in the bank that gives the affluent sustainable wealth. “Wealth is also transferred from generation to generation, not only in direct transfers, but also in access to the best schools and universities. Young people who get college degrees are overwhelmingly from wealthier families,” writes Reich. Furthermore, assistance in the form of tax breaks, which disproportionately favor those who have already accumulated some wealth in their lives. “these tax breaks mainly help those with high income and lots of wealth in the first place, who can afford to put away lots for retirement or get a large mortgage on a huge home. They don’t much help those with low incomes and minimal savings,” he argues. In summation, he puts forth a sobering point: “the median net worth of White families is now more than 10 times greater than that of African-American or Latino families.”

So what can be done? According to Reich, there are plenty of possibilities for addressing what he calls “structural disadvantages.” Along with reforming the tax system and placing limits on things like mortgage interest, he suggests some pretty specific steps that the government should be taking. For example, setting up mandatory savings accounts for newborns – a revolutionary idea that would quite literally change the world.

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