Wealth of Two Nations: The US Racial Wealth Gap, 1860-2020

By Ellora Derenoncourt, Chi Hyun Kim, Moritz Kuhn, Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Bonn, Moritz Schularick, Professor of Economics, University of Bonn, Managing Editor Economic Policy & CEPR Research Fellow, Member of the Academy of Sciences of Berlin-Brandenburg and ECONtribute Excellence Cluster. Originally published at VoxEU.

Large and persistent wealth gaps between Black and white Americans have attracted considerable attention from researchers and policymakers. This column presents a new long-run time series of the per capita wealth gap, from before the Civil War to 2020. A key finding is that severe racial differences in initial conditions after Emancipation have contributed greatly to today’s stalled progress in closing the racial wealth gap. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for policies that seek to foster greater racial wealth equality in the near future.

The racial wealth gap is one of the largest and most persistent economic disparities between Black and white Americans. According to SCF+, the average Black American has held less than 20 cents for every white dollar of wealth for the past several decades.

Such persistent racial gaps in wealth have fueled an ongoing discussion of what policies can close this form of inequality. Various studies have emphasised the importance of racial income and education convergence (Bertocchi and Dimico 2010, Margo 2007 and 2016, Chetty et al. 2018), housing policies (Akbar et al. 2019; Kermani and Wong 2021), and financial inclusion (Boerma and Karabarbounis 2021). Others discuss the role of assistance to families with children (Zewde 2020) and reparations for slavery in mitigating racial wealth inequality (Darity and Mullen 2020).

Our new study (Derenoncourt et al. 2022) contributes to this discussion by linking the current racial wealth gap to its past and answering the following questions: How did racial wealth inequality develop after Emancipation? How much can history explain today’s dynamics in the racial wealth gap?

The US Racial Wealth Gap: 1860-2020

We construct a long-run series of the racial wealth gap, defined as the ratio of white-to-Black per capita wealth, by drawing on numerous data sources, including complete-count digitised censuses, early state tax records, national reports, annual studies of Black economic progress, and historical and modern waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF+). Our large-scale data collection and harmonisation effort fill in about 100 years of missing data on the national racial wealth gap, from the 1880s to the 1980s, when most modern wealth surveys with race information began. We present our final series of the per capita white-to-Black wealth ratio from 1860 to 2020 in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Starting from a ratio of nearly 60 to 1 on the eve of the Civil War, the racial wealth gap has evolved in a ‘hockey-stick’ pattern, to a ratio of 10 to 1 by 1920 and 7 to 1 during the 1950s, where it has hovered since. The period of fastest convergence was in the early decades after Emancipation. In 1860, before Emancipation, when 89% of the Black population was enslaved and thus legally barred from any form of wealth holding, the average Black American owned less than 2 cents for every white dollar of wealth. Shortly after the abolition of slavery in the US, the per capita white-to-Black wealth gap decreased drastically, by almost 60%. This continued convergence occurred in a period that saw initial enforcement of Black Americans’ rights during Reconstruction give way to a retrenchment of the racial order by the 1900s. Yet, even as the Jim Crow regime reached a crescendo, the racial wealth gap continued to fall, declining a further 10% (to a ratio of 9 to 1 by 1930).

During the decade of the Great Depression, we estimate a relatively stable gap of about 9:1 despite the fact that New Deal-era relief and social insurance policies tended to exclude regions or sectors with a large representation of Black workers. The 1940s up to the 1970s saw dramatic changes in the landscape of racial progress and discrimination. Yet, such changes appear to have had little impact on racial wealth convergence from a long-run point of view. Finally, the last 70 years of our time series are characterised by stagnation in the gap, at a level between 5 and 6, and, in the most recent decades, the wealth gap has actually widened rather than continued to close.

Drivers of Convergence: Racial Differences in Initial Conditions, Savings, and Capital Gains

We rationalise the overall shape of convergence that emerges from our data series above using a stylised theoretical framework of wealth accumulation. This framework considers three distinct channels of wealth convergence: (i) initial conditions right after the Civil War, (ii) savings-induced wealth accumulation, and (iii) capital gains.

Using this framework, we first simulate a hypothetic scenario where the two racial groups enjoy equal conditions for wealth accumulation after 1870. The resulting wealth gap is presented in Figure 2 (solid black line). We find that, under equal conditions for wealth accumulation after slavery (in other words, identical savings rates and capital gains for Black and white Americans), the racial wealth gap should be around 3.1 today. Despite equal conditions of wealth accumulation, this large and lasting gap emphasises the continued relevance of initial differences in wealth after Emancipation on today’s wealth gap, even 150 years later.

Figure 2

Compared to this idealised scenario, wealth accumulating conditions have not been equal across Black and white Americans, and convergence has accordingly been much slower. Our analysis shows that saving rates (s) and capital gains (q) have been consistently lower for Black Americans than for their white counterparts (see grey dotted line in Figure 2). The slower savings-induced wealth accumulation by Black Americans has been the main driver of convergence dynamics over the last century and a half. More recently, however, racial differences in capital gains have played the more dominant role in shaping the evolution of the racial wealth gap and have led to a divergence from its historical convergence path.

Recent Divergence: The Role of Portfolio Composition

Starting from the 1980s, the racial wealth gap has completely stalled and even begun to widen. This period of divergence can be characterised by two features. On one hand, racial income convergence has completely stalled, thus switching off the contribution of savings-induced wealth accumulation to racial wealth convergence. On the other hand, capital gains on assets owned by white Americans have increased much more than those owned by Black Americans.

Such a strong increase in racial differences in capital gains can be explained by examining the wealth portfolios of white and Black Americans. In Table 1, we present the shares of different asset classes to their total asset values.1 On average, the portfolios of white households are more diversified than those of Black households, with about 40% of the wealth in housing and 20% in equity. Black households, in comparison, hold around 60% of their wealth in housing while investing less than 10% of their wealth in equity. This gap in equity holdings, in combination with a soaring stock market, has led white households to benefit more from high capital gains in equity market since 1980, leading to a widening of the racial wealth gap in capital gains.

Table 1 Asset shares of Black and white portfolios


Our study emphasises the outsized role of initial conditions under slavery in determining the speed of convergence between Black and white wealth. In light of these findings, we conclude that policies that redistribute large stocks of wealth, like reparations, lead to immediate reductions in racial wealth inequality. While policies targeting portfolio composition or fostering income convergence can return us to a convergence path, that could take hundreds of years to play out.

Nevertheless, we argue that these two types of policies are highly complementary if policymakers aim at persistently closing the racial wealth gap, as policies that redistribute stocks of wealth without addressing racial gaps in savings and capital gains have but a transient effect on the wealth gap.

References available at the original.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    To quote from the article: “Starting from the 1980s, the racial wealth gap has completely stalled and even begun to widen”

    And what happened in the 1980s and into the 1990s? Reagan, Bush Daddy, Bill (& Hill!). The mono-party dismantles the New Deal.

    This posting is well meaning, and the statistics are indeed appalling.

    Yet the authors offer no real way of remedying the effects of racism and segregation, largely because the most obvious ways are uncomfortable for academia and for the managerial class. The minimum wage has to be raised across the board. Let’s talk $17. The ProAct and other enticements that the Democrats throw out as a way of using organized labor as an ATM have to pass (in spite of President Synema and the Parliamentarian). The government has to encourage unionization–as well as use unions for training programs and to distribute health insurance. Antiunion laws like “right to work” have to be scrapped. Pensions have to be reformed–everyone should have defined-benefit pensions. Social Security should get a big raise, particularly of the lower pensions.

    The solutions aren’t hard to discern. Yet they are nearly impossible to put into effect, what with the U.S. business class used to treating its employees as recyclable slaves, the upper-middle-class managerial types being full of hatred for unions, and the government itself unwilling to change the life of the populace.

    If you think that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a scandal, just consider the statistics here–and extend your thinking to how the “white” working class is treated, too.

    1. Questa Nota

      The 1960s were the parents of the 1980s.
      Recall LBJ and what he did today, or back then.
      With the willing Congress legislating he broke up the black family and that contributed mightily to the subsequent instabilities already plaguing the black population in the country.
      When policy makes households harder to form or maintain, that makes family survival harder. Blacks were making progress in the 1950s in spite of all the institutional and societal obstacles. Their labor force participation, marriage, household formation and similar measures were trending favorably.
      Then LBJ and those Congresscritters got involved.

      1. anon y'mouse

        so your argument is essentially similar to the anti-abortionist crowd?

        focusing on “marriage” means women must stay with their abuser for the sake of the children?

        perhaps we should just start supporting children and mothers and let the marriage thing do whatever it does. that seems to have a bigger payout than locking two incompatible adults together in a situation that only barely suits one of them at a time.

        i could have sworn that social science has produced studies that say that people in the ghetto value marriage less due to economic instability. it’s commonly cited that half of marriages break up over money issues. if you can barely support yourself on a crappy job, adding a family to the mix doesn’t help much. and rent is what it is, regardless of marriage or not.

        we aren’t living in the 50s anymore where one job can support 5 people in whatever fashion, and in the ghetto that was already 1.5 or 2 jobs among them and no one home to raise the kids except maybe grandma.

        signed, your local ghetto dweller

        1. Felix_47

          Thinking that stable familes are going to magically appear in our lifetimes in Black society is magical thinking. 70% of Black births are out of wedlock. Child support is realistically never going to be adequate because Black men are rarely high earners. What we can do is try to improve the situation. It is not expensive compared to what we are wasting, for example, in Ukraine. There are about 3 million Black children in the US up to four years old. If every woman with a Black child was paid 50,000 per year, provided health care and social security coverage for this period it would cost in the neighborhood of 150 billion (assuming I worked the calculator right it is 3 million kids times 50000 which is 150,000,000,000). We have dropped at least 80 billion so far in Ukraine that we know about and if you count the costs to the taxpayers of paying more for energy to finance the sanctions against Russia we have spent vastly more already. And we could easily expand that number three times and since there are many Black mothers that have more than one child the cost might be less than we think. So the US taxpayer could realistically provide generous child support to Black women. Having been raised by a Black woman myself I am certain that if they were not burdened with holding down two fast food jobs to raise four kids they could do an excellent job raising kids. And with this basic income they could still work some on the side to augment it and still do a great job raising children. By not focusing government benefits on those who raise children we are creating one more generation of dysfunctional adults who will be unhireable and a parasitic drag on societal progress in the US. Private employers where I live in Southern Ca do not hire native Blacks if they can help it and I see it where I work and hear it all the time. They only want immigrants, primarily Hispanic, because they know how to work, work cheap, and don’t complain and learned it as kids while native Blacks require a lot of hand holding that costs a lot of money and effort that businesses cannot and will not pay. That is not the case so much in government jobs since places are reserved for Black workers. Spending money to support Black mothers though would be much more productive than spending it on bringing freedom and democracy to Ukraine or deposing Putin or solving the drug problem and the homeless problem. And the conflicts between Black parents are generally about money. The woman is angry because the man does not help and the men react with violence in many cases so the women just do not ask for help. So relieved of child support obligation Black men might gradually get involved. Raising kids is a national responsibility especially since over half of all children are now minority and a third are Black. The average age of whites is over 40 out of the childbearing ages and their proportion of the population is headed down fast. So if our leaders care about the future of the US they need to focus on the mothers and the children of people of color who represent the future demographic of the US and our taxpayers need to provide adequate child support. Anything less is being a deadbeat dad and our leaders certainly qualify. Even Hunter Biden’s baby momma had to take him to court to get him to pay chld support and had he not been a wealthy member of the board of directors of a Ukraine gas company she would have gotten what most Black mothers get……squat and the threat of violence. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

          1. anon y'mouse

            please note, although i find your comment relevant and interesting and agree with much, i did not mention the false construct of race.

            i saw much similar reasoning going on about husbands, marriage, welfare, and all of that jazz among all races in the ghetto where i grew up, including in my own family.

            just pointing out that it has little to do with “black” people, and everything to do with poverty and the tremendous responsibility of raising children while oppressed by poverty. and oppression by marriage is not a help, often a hindrance. after arguments about money, infidelity, incompatibility and the like i say “fck the marriage, help the kids and the adults will work something out among themselves”.

            i thought it had already been proven through studies that black men are more involved with raising their own kids than white men are when separated from the mother, although none of that was in evidence in the examples i saw in my circle (white, black or other—the men bailed just as often as were thrown out & had little to no input by choice).

        2. JBird4049

          Welfare often forces couples to separate. When you have the county “reminding” me to count and report the income (and assets) of any roommates even if renting a room, there is a problem. Add that the amount of welfare has gone down relative to inflation and that amount of assets that you can keep likewise also has not keep up with inflation. Get married, lose your benefits. Have roommates, lose your benefits. In California, because of the high cost of housing, being able to pay your rent probably means you lose your SNAP (food stamps) benefits because you are making too much money. Then there is the perpetual efforts to eliminate what are perceived as loopholes, which means that the amount of school aid is being reduced, but not on paper, just in real life. You can take those debt peonage loans, but God help you if you either force to leave before graduation or if the market for whatever skills you have tanks.

          There **might** be some truth about welfare dependency; since the cost of education has been increasing in costs and its practical, positive effects on future earnings has been decreasing for decades, and all the good jobs including highly skilled, well paying ones have been sent overseas, maybe welfare being the problem is baloney. Welfare in this country does not provide the means to improve oneself or even survive being as it is a monetary prison.

          What I have just described has been affecting a greater percentage of the population every year for decades. The only differences between Blacks and Whites is that one side had less of a cushion and greater downward pressures; both have large numbers of homeless with IIRC roughly equal numbers of homeless and incarcerated people. Of course Whites do outnumber Blacks by roughly 3 to 1.

          Also, by the end of the post war boom Blacks had been closing the gap. Then it went away. If you look at the wealth discrepancy within the populations, Black elites are wealthier compared to White elites; differences in wealth between the groups of elites has either stopped growing or is actually decreasing in the past forty years. But talking about that seems verboten, unlike the wealth gap among the lower classes. I wonder why.

          Really, this article is smoke and mirrors with its ignoring the greater wealth gap between classes and focusing on the lesser wealth gap between races. Then add proposals for targeted relief, which both causes an increase in racism and another opportunity for the upper middle class and above Blacks to take a disproportionate cut of the payouts. An excellent grift. If the proposals are an attempt to recreate the booming economy of the 1940s-1960s which would benefit everyone and the poorest the most, then it would be an honest examination.

      2. Mike Gramig

        That is patented neoliberal nonsense. See DJG, Reality Czar for a spot-on analysis.

        1. Questa Nota

          Not a neoliberal.
          Writing about different eras.
          Note the linked article about African-American Family Structure for example and the section referencing observations by Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell. They address the same issues that I have, writing about the policy issues in the 1960s. DJG is referencing current and recent issues and provides good recommendations.

    2. Roger

      The vast majority of black people in America are working class, and therefore got impacted the same as the rest of the working class from the impact of neoliberalism from the late 1970s onwards.

      Black mens jobs were heavily skewed toward industries that were offshore/de-industrialized such as automobiles. Then black families impacted much more by cuts in welfare payments, and the cocaine epidemic where crack cocaine sentenced at 16*times the length than powder (mostly used by the white population). Then add in the heroin and mental issues for Vietnam vets, heavily black men. Then add in the Clinton’s changes to criminal law which were skewed to impact black men. Then add in the criminal brutalization of black home owners from the mortgage bankers, never punished by an Obama who presided over the eviction of at least a million black families.

      Its got nothing to do with “culture” which is just another racist dog whistle. The remedies are very straight-forward, but as you say very uncomfortable for the PMC and rich to deal with.

  2. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Lambert.

    One reason for the persistence of the disparity and failure to accumulate assets on an individual / family basis, which is where the legacy of slavery (where it may apply), migration (nothing to do with slavery and ethnicity) and class overlap, is due to the descendants of slaves (who may have migrated internally or externally) and other immigrants support family back home.

    There are statistics showing immigrants, descendants of slaves etc. earning well enough from working in certain professions, but not retaining that wealth, say enough to move into more genteel surroundings, due to remittances. These communities, for one or two generations, display solidarity.

    1. Joe Well

      That is a fascinating insight, but in the case of non-immigrants it would all net out since the wealth does not leave the country or the racial group. It would just mean less in-group inequality.

      Or do you think that the accumulation of capital would accelerate among the non-remitters faster than the remittances would accelerate wealth among the recipients?

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        There’s probably less in group inequality.

        If you look at the statistics, one notices Latin / Club Med solidarity from north European migrants, so it’s not a black and white thing. It also plays out in politics when immigrants / descendants get involved.

  3. Cristobal

    Fiscal reform. Legal reform to address corporate crime. Adequately fund (free) educación and health care. Institute an obligatory national level training and certificación program for cops (the reform of the spanish guardia civil is not perfect, but It is an example). Level the playing field. Surely the racial gap is larger, but I would like to see somé kind study of a ‘class gap’.

  4. Joe Well

    The words “foreclosure” and “Obama” do not appear, nor does any mention that nequality trends worse starting around the late 2000s. They dance around the subject by mentioning housing wealth and “recent decades”, but that is it.

    The fact that stratification within the fabled Black and White Communities (to what extent are white people richer just because of the top 1-10% of white people?) is ignored alone makes this seem like liberal propaganda designed to obscure class, but the recent historical amnesia seals it.

    1. Pelham

      I’ve read that if you slice away the top few percentage points in wealth for both blacks and whites the racial wealth gap pretty much disappears. Adolph Reed has cited this. So the problem with our horrid wealth distribution is about 90% a question of class.

    2. Mike Gramig

      C’mon folks. Let’s start thinking mathematically. The overarching fact with regard to inequality is the orders of magnitude of inequality – the differences are without normal human experience. Yes, there are the wealthy, but the fact that the wealth imbalance is in the range of exponential and the critical mass of wealth is now self-perpetuating (Piketty) is not being corrected by our current governmental institutions. We have allowed over the last 50 years for the government and the economy to be captured by our oligarchic capitalists.

  5. anon y'mouse

    per capita wealth means that me and Bill Gates are bazillionaires?

    where’s my *blankety-blank* yacht, then?

  6. Brett Ryder

    Many studies have shown that familiy stability and family structure are the most important factors in determining a child’s chances of success, future economic well being, etc. – regardless of race.

    Its also well known that over 70% of black children are born out of wedlock and raised by single mothers.

    No injections of cash into the black community will provide long term benefits when the fundamentals of the black family are so broken. The idea that reparations will somehow magically fix what are essentialy cultural short comings is just foolish.

    Rather than continually focusing on Big Government Solutions that rarely work, it might be more productive to focus on the underlying causes of poverty in the black community. And yes, I know the easy thing is to blame whites for black’s problems, but blaming your cultural problems on another culture is pretty lame.

    The vast majority of our families were close to penniless 100 years ago. The vast majority of immigrants from Asia and Latin America and the Middle East, Eastern Europe come here with very little wealth in addition to their own cultural barriers. Yet many risk their lives to get here, and none blame the dominant culture for their failings.

    Much of what is wrong with the black culture can best be fixed by the individuals and families themselves, not the government.

    1. Yves Smith

      First, your “vast majority of families were penniless” is abject nonsense. In 1920, 46% of American families owned their homes. 14% of farmland was owned by blacks.

      Second, your effective claim that American blacks should be over the effects of slavery by now is also nonsense. Slaves in the US did not have the family as responsible for the health of the child, and there was no interest in education (save for house slaves). VoxEU regularly runs articles that show the economic impact of historical events extend over hundreds of years. For instance:

      This column investigates the effect of one of history’s longest-running and most intrusive forms of religious persecution – the Spanish Inquisition. In areas without measured persecution, annual GDP per capita is significantly higher than in areas where the Inquisition was most active. Local levels of persecution continue to influence economic activity and basic attitudes some 200 years after the abolition of the Inquisition, undermining trust, reducing investments in human capital, and impoverishing hardest-hit areas.


      There are many examples at VoxEU, of how the effects of pre-1800 religious distribution, wars, and diseases still have tangible effects now on economic activity.

      Third, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among Hispanics is over 50% and whites, 30%, so your fixation on blacks looks bigoted.

      1. JBird4049

        One can also note the Black diaspora immediately after the Civil War (or the formerly wealthy Black farmers of the Ohio Valley almost a century earlier), kind of created a browning of much of the country as well as a number of new black owned towns. Then the farmers were driven from their farms and actions like not putting railroad lines to the new towns or access to loans also killed the towns as well as individual neighborhoods in white controlled cities, and made the country more beige with black spots. Proto-ghettoes, I guess. Not all at once, but over several decades over the entire country.

        Black poverty is a creation of the national and local governments along with corporations like the railroads and the banks; attempts to reverse this meant violence including murder of Blacks and Whites by the elites and their racist enablers.

  7. kevbot9000

    The article mentions how New Deal policies bypassed most black communities which is glossing over that by 1936 black voters went for FDR by around 60%-40% when the election prior they had still leaned Republican. So while New Deal policies were not spread in an equitable manner, they provided enough concrete material benefits to black people to swing their vote. (It’s also that the generation that had grown up in the shadow of Lincoln/Grant Republicans had mostly died, among myriad other things but that would make for an unbearably long comment)

  8. David in Santa Cruz

    What is the social utility of even one billionaire?

    What a terrific way to redistribute wealth and make reparations for the kidnapping, enslavement, and immiseration of Africans in America without stripping assets from people who have not disproportionately benefited from treating human beings as capital! Confiscate all private assets of more than, say $150M. Redistribute the wealth to the descendants of the enslaved. In and done.

    1. Joe Well

      If that happens, go long on 23 and Me stock. The rush to identify any trace of African ancestry will be incredible.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I’ll support redistributing some of the wealth to the descendants of the slaves, if you support redistributing some of the wealth to the descendants of the strip-mined.

      And some of it to the descendants of those disemployed and / or underpaid because of the International Free Trade Conspiracy.

      Otherwise, not.

    3. Felix_47

      What a great idea. I would vote for that in a heartbeat. And add in all the private foundations that exist to provide a tax free sinecure for the friends, relatives, children and girlfriends of the billionaires. And add a 90% estate tax or more so inherited wealth cannot be inherited. People like Steve Cohen (now owner of the Mets), Jamie Dimon, Leon Black and George Soros created dynastic wealth for themselves over the last few decades. The problem is not Black culture because when Blacks could get jobs that paid middle class wages in the private sector and when they could make enough to buy homes the family structure improved. The US simply outshored their jobs, replaced what they had to with Hispanics who were cheaper, and outsourced industry to cheaper areas like China. And Black and white working class men were left in the lurch. An example that money solves it is seen in Obama. The father never was involved. He never paid much in child support. But the grandmother had a good income. He went to an exclusive private high school (Punahoa) and an expensive private college (Occidental for two years and then Columbia for two.) And now he has generational wealth he will hand down to his daughters who will be rich and marry rich.

  9. BeliTsari

    Biden/ Pelosi/ Schumer’s klepocrats are a sad echo of 1947 Dixiecrats; who’d set out to privatize New Deal’s white flight, suburbanite red-lined “negro-removal” oilgarchy: bulldozing of “minority” business districts, gutting urban electric traction, all craven white male unions, doppelgangster Idiocracy and, by the way; hegemonic US imperialism. McCarthyism to label ANY dissidents: Commies (like crushing Henry Wallace & Midwestern municipal, union & Farmer’s nascent Socialist Parties). Without Black businesses, no mass transit, “minorities” redlined into carcinogenic industrial waste areas; broadcast media, unions, schools, retailers, non-profit, faith & community organizations re-segregated, nobody could hear you scream. It wasn’t like white folk ever read the 13th Amendment’s “gotcha” subordinate clause?

  10. Alice X

    Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law – A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America explores the Federal Government’s role in suppressing African-American home ownership.

    While the book tends to meander somewhat it is still a powerful indictment. It could carry on to Obama’s crushing of African-American wealth in the crash of ’08 and the aftermath.

    The NYT review:


  11. Susan the other

    I watched an award-winning doc on PBS entitled (I think) “Rat Film” about the persistent location of rats in the city of Baltimore since the 1930s when they started city planning, etc. And the maps back then and today are virtually identical. The rats are still there, still in the same place. The inner city. The poorest part of town. Rats are a lot like people, when they settle into a comfortable place they stay for generations. No rat control stuff dislodges them. So I think that’s instructive. It partly describes why we humans are averse to change. Once a system is rolling smoothly along, it’s a freight train. Social momentum is the same thing as economic momentum. My point being that if we want change it has to be a big, deep, systemic change. Or else we just go out and complacently poison a few rats every day even as things get worse and worse. If rats were prized for their pelts they’d be gone in short order. Oh, my that’s a lovely rat fur hat you are wearing, darling. But that’s the free-market solution. Most of the time I think of free-market solutions as being as gross as rat-killing. And it really wouldn’t revitalize the inner city. No free-market solution will. Because it is human welfare we are talking about. What if our finance and banking industry were a utility? Would that make a difference? I think it might make all the difference. City government, with the help of federal funds, could step in to fix things up with a plan to make inner cities economically viable – not exploitable. And to extend that logic, government (that thing we seem to lack) could make poverty itself economically viable. Sounds like an oxymoron – but all of us should consider that living well in poverty is a possibility. It’s a question of choices. It’s a question of policy. And now of sustainability. So maybe a “wealth gap” is yesterday’s language.

  12. drumlin woodchuckles

    Racial wealth gap?

    If my money and Jeff Bezos’s money were added together and divided by two, each of us would be declared to “have” 200 billion dollars.

    Figures lie when liars figure.

  13. Mike

    These professors ought to tour the U.S and see what things are like in the interior. I saw a lot of poor people and I doubt the whites that live there see things the same way as these professors do.

    But no, the elites always prefer discussion of Black and White. Not Black and Asian. Not Jews and Baptists. ALL Whites are so very rich and All Blacks are so very poor.

    Perhaps someday we’ll get a discussion of Rich and Poor without all the divisive ethnic nonsense because it’s pretty clear……………..ALL Rich are rich and ALL Poor are poor.

  14. Dave in Austin

    Depressing reading. So I went to Google and typed-in “chart black-white income US 1865-2022”. Not much on Black income before 1990 at first, but comparing the Washington Post and Economic Research Institute numbers (and looking at some of the other charts) tells me some people seem to be massaging the numbers. Compare for yourself.

    Looking at the St. Louis Fed 2019 numbers on assets (the most recent): https://www.stlouisfed.org/open-vault/2019/august/wealth-inequality-in-america-facts-figures?print=true yields a potentially more nuanced view of savings.

    First, the value of a high school degree and a GED went down fast after 2005 during the “everybody passes” period. Uneducated immigrants have no disadvantage. For employers, a high school degree means little. And the large uneducated immigration greatly increased the number of “own nothing” at the bottom, so automatically “the top five percent became the top three percent” because of the increased population at the bottom. I can’t quantify that effect but it is real. I’ll leave it to the statisticians.

    The Black/White and Hispanic/White wealth gap charts suggest that both blacks and Hispanics between the 50% and 75% percentile are doing OK. That matches my personal experience- both recent immigrant Hispanics and Blacks enfranchised in the 1960-70s who are married and working regular jobs are accumulating wealth the way first-generation immigrants always do, they save; what Marx called “Primitive accumulation”.

    The big shock for me was in the NC articles chart. Black wealth went up from the end of the Civil War to 1900 in a straight line- reconstruction, the 1876 election and the raising of the Jim Crow barriers from 1876 to the 1890s, the 1873 and 1893 Depressions- nothing had any effect. This is a straight line. Then when the children and grand children of the ex-slaves came along the chart went almost flat from 1900 to 1925, which was the crisis in sharecropping (machines arrived), cotton got cheap and large numbers of poor, displaced ex-sharecroppers of both races moved to northern industrial cities. Then a very slow improvement happened from 1925-1990. Again, nothing made it better or worse- the Depression, the New Deal, WWII, the post-war boom, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Laws- nothing. The model that most people in my generation (born 1944) assumed- that once the legal barriers fell Blacks would slowly move to the norm, turned out to be wrong. And this appears to be significantly more true in wealth than in income.

    Some speculation now, The steady rise in the Black illegitimacy rate from 19% in 1920 to 80% left many young Blacks unprepared for industrial society’s jobs. The well-intentioned increase in welfare benefits in the 1960s accidentally created a cushion for single parent homes of both races. Black illegitimacy also led to large numbers of young mothers who didn’t accumulate job experience or get an education; they ended up at a life-long disadvantage. The rise of the drug culture the importation of more competitive and focused immigrant workers didn’t help. And finally, as a matter of in-group self-defense, middle class Blacks have found it almost impossible to criticize the Ghetto culture that has arisen.

    Blacks in the US who are descended from US slaves seem to have a problem with converting income into savings, a problem not shared by the post-1960 waves of Black immigrants from Jamaica, the Azores and Black Africa. These groups also have much lower rates of single parent families, child delinquency and second generation downward mobility. In other words, they act like immigrants, not “Blacks”. Among themselves people from these new groups of Blacks talk about it and tend to quickly move into neighborhoods with “better people” for the schools, the cleanliness and the safety.

    This savings issue may be amenable to fairly minor changes in education in poor Black schools- practical math about time payments, how to accumulate a down payment for a house, the “save vs buy”. Such educational changes might change future behavior.

    I grew up in Pawtucket, RI, a Catholic, ethnic, White, blue-collar town in the 1960s. The small Cape Cod house I grew up in is now owned by a Black, a Jamaican I think. The street is as clean and neat as when I grew up. Even when I was growing up, Portuguese from the Azores (often part Black) and Cape Verde Islands (totally Black) weren’t “Black”, they acted like they were Portuguese, were Catholic and were just “From the Azores” or “Cape Verdeans”. Even though they were Black they didn’t count as Blacks.

    I should mention that the last two-masted, 90-foot-long immigrant sailing ship made her final run from Cape Verde to Providence in 1965; the deck cargo of domestic animals was of course eaten on the way over. That’s 1965- not 1865 or 1800. At the time, I didn’t think it was anything unusual.

    1. JBird4049

      Some things to note:

      Jim Crow and Sundown Towns.
      The Nadir around 1920 including the Red Summer of 1919 with its violence including ethnic cleansing.
      Slavery by another name(prison labor in mines, farms, contraction, and factories under bogus convictions) that was a serious problem into the 1940s.
      The end of the post war boom just after 1970 when Blacks were finally pulling similar income as Whites.
      The War on Drugs, which was a deliberate effort by President Richard Nixon to weaken the Black vote and movements like the then assassinated MLK.

      For two centuries, each time Blacks as a population started to gain wealth and status, it would be taken away. It looks to me that while the population would recover, it never match the previous heights. The last bit of Neoliberalizing the economy and creating an entire carceral state supposedly to fight the evils of drugs is a one, two punch of economic and social destruction both against Blacks in general and middle, working, and poor Whites as well. It just took longer to hurt the beige people.

      So, we have at least four separate waves of repression in which the population was slowly ground down. With the Civil Rights Movement along with the other reform movements removed the worst of the racial oppression, the Black leadership, the Black Misleadership Class, was offered a seat at the wealth table with the qui pro quo of controlling the more obstreperous people wanting true equality. The wealthier, more successful Blacks like lawyers and doctors also left the ghettoes to more pleasant areas depriving the community of both the examples of successful people as well as their leadership abilities. The various movements including civil rights became grifts for the college educated upper classes. Maybe that is a third punch.

      Large portions of the Black community as well as the White were made dysfunctional. It is just that one community has always had fewer resources and more abuse, which crushed it.

  15. Ruby Furigana

    Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism by Touré F. Reed is an excellent book related to this subject.

  16. Will Shetterly

    “the racial wealth gap has evolved in a ‘hockey-stick’ pattern, to a ratio of 10 to 1 by 1920 and 7 to 1 during the 1950s, where it has hovered since.”

    If white privilege was a factor after the 1950s, the gap would have grown to favor whites. Since it stagnated, the better explanation is the US’s awful state of class mobility.

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