Dreams Deferred: How Enriching the 1% Widens the Racial Wealth Divide

In a Deeply Unequal Economy

The widening of the racial wealth divide has coincided with the extreme concentration of U.S. wealth. The wealthiest 0.1 percent of households have grown richer while millions of families face poverty and deep-seated economic insecurity.

  • The median American family saw their wealth drop 3 percent between 1983 and 2016, while the richest 0.1 percent have seen their wealth jump 133 percent.
  • During this same period, the annual increase for White median family wealth was about $1,000. Latino median family wealth went up by $66 annually and Black median family wealth dropped $83 annually. Meanwhile, the average household in the top 1 percent saw their wealth jump by half a million dollars annually.
  • The richest dynastic families in the United States have seen their wealth expand at a dizzying pace. The three wealthiest families — the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Mars — have seen their wealth increase nearly 6,000 percent since 1983.
  • The Forbes 400 richest Americans own more wealth than all Black households plus a quarter of Latino households.
  • Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, owns $160 billion in total wealth. That is 44 million times more wealth than the median Black family and 24 million times more wealth than the median Latino family.

Moving Forward

The racial wealth divide and growing economic inequality is often analyzed as two separate and concurrent trends, when in fact, they are mutually reinforcing outcomes of larger economic issues. Both the racial wealth divide and the unequal economy were created and perpetuated by public policies that favored Whites and continue to favor the very wealthy. Public policies aimed at reducing both trends will be critical to creating a more equitable economic system and a more just society overall. Such policies could include, but are not limited to:

  • A baby bond program to help low-wealth households build wealth
  • A tax on the wealthiest 0.1 percent to reduce distortions caused by concentrated wealth and generate revenue marked for expanding opportunity for low-wealth households
  • An audit of federal government policies to evaluate their impact on the racial wealth divide
  • Targeted reparations to address the legacy of racism in wealth building

Dreams Deferred expands on and updates two previous reports from the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, in collaboration with Prosperity Now: “The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come,” in 2016, and “The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Wealth Divide is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class” in 2017. This report also builds on extensive research on the growing concentration of wealth in the United States catalogued in the “Billionaire Bonanza” report series released in 2015, 2017, and 2018. The most recent edition focused on the growing power and influence of intergenerational wealth dynasties.

Too often Dr. King’s “Dream” of making justice a reality for people of color is conflated with the “fantasy of self-deception” that there is “steady growth toward a middle-class utopia.” Examining the concentration of wealth and ongoing deep racial wealth inequality in light of Dr. King’s 90th birthday reminds us of the reality King spoke of in his famous “I Have A Dream Speech”: “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Dr. King also stated in this speech that “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.” Over 50 years since this famous dream was shared with the nation, we have seen wealth concentrate among the wealthiest Americans and a polarizing racial wealth divide grow between Whites and Blacks and Latinos.

Despite aspirant rhetoric and sensationalized media stories, the racial wealth divide has not improved over the past three decades. In fact, the divide has grown considerably as wealth continues to concentrate at the top leaving the rest of the country an increasingly smaller share. A targeted set of policies is imperative to begin to bridge this deep divide for generations to come. Inaction or, worse, repeating the same mistakes that led to this situation will simply widen further the divide and create greater economic instability for the country at large.

Read the full report. 

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Reposted from Inequality.org

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

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