How can we close our racial wealth gap? – The Center for Public Integrity

Reading Time: 9 minutes

It’s a stark comparison.

Eleven years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the difference in median wealth between white and Black families — in today’s dollars to account for inflation — was about $47,000.

More than half a century has passed since 1960s laws banned racial discrimination in hiring and other key aspects of life but didn’t address the economic consequences of the country’s long history of such actions. The wealth gap, far from closing, has grown to $164,000.

White Americans are more likely to receive inheritances or other monetary gifts from family, according to Federal Reserve data, a key way the past feeds into a multi-trillion-dollar gulf. It’s baked into the future, too. Even among those anticipating an inheritance down the road, white families estimate they’ll receive nearly twice as much as Black families.

What can the country do to avoid an equally grim picture in another half-century?

In more than a year reporting a story and podcast about one woman’s effort to narrow wealth disparities in her hometown, we heard and saw recommendations ranging from small to sweeping.

Almost all would, at best, narrow the gulf or keep it from growing. Only one — reparations — seems to hold the potential for eliminating it in one fell swoop.

But many of the recommendations would have more impact together.

“These things absolutely complement each other in terms of working to close the racial wealth gap,” said Dania V. Francis, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Kyle K. Moore, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, put it this way: “Our current system has so many points of failure that you really have to address them on multiple levels.” 

Side note: Many of the ideas on this list could improve conditions for Americans of modest means, regardless of race.

Here’s what we heard, starting with the big one:


American slavery was a particularly horrifying form of mass wage theft that economists say still impacts family net worth today. But calls for federal reparations — restitution payments — for descendants of enslaved Americans often point to what happened after slavery, too.

William Darity Jr., a Duke University economist who has researched the wealth divide for decades, sees many examples of federal culpability in the period from Reconstruction onward. Promising land to formerly enslaved people and then grabbing it back while distributing millions of acres to white families. Standing by amid …….