The wealth gap between black and white Americans has been a persistent issue in the United States for over a century. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) sheds new light on the history of this wealth gap and the factors that have contributed to its persistence.The study, which analyzed data from 1865 to 2016, found that the wealth gap between black and white households has remained largely unchanged over the past 160 years. In 1865, just after the end of slavery in the United States, the median wealth of black households was just 1% of the median wealth of white households. In 2016, that figure had risen only slightly to 10%.
The study also found that the main drivers of the wealth gap have shifted over time. In the years immediately following the Civil War, the wealth gap was largely due to the fact that Black households had no access to the property and assets that were essential to building wealth in the United States at the time. Over time, as legal barriers to property ownership were removed, the wealth gap remained stubbornly high due to ongoing discrimination in housing, education, and employment opportunities
In more recent years, the wealth gap has been exacerbated by rising income inequality and changes in the tax code that have disproportionately benefited wealthy households. According to the study, the top 1% of households in the United States now own more wealth than the entire bottom 90% of households combined. This concentration of wealth at the top has made it increasingly difficult for black households to build wealth and catch up to their white counterparts.
The study’s findings underscore the need for policies that address the root causes of the wealth gap and promote greater economic equality. These policies might include measures to increase access to affordable housing, expand educational and job training opportunities, and reform the tax code to reduce inequality.
As the authors of the study note, “The long history of the black-white wealth gap in the United States reflects a legacy of racial discrimination and exclusion that has not been fully reckoned with.” By acknowledging this history and taking steps to address its ongoing effects, policymakers and citizens alike can work towards a more equitable and just society for all.