Why Black Lives Matter and the Racial Wealth Gap

Yes, this is a personal finance blog. And yes, this is a post about racism and the horrific treatment of the black community. I’m white. And I won’t claim to be the most woke white person on the block. But I know injustice when I see it. Systemic racism is real. It’s a big deal.

This post is not about looters or rioters or social unrest. This is about what has led us here. This is a post about how today a quarter of all black households would have less than $5 if they liquidated all of their financial assets (source.) White families, on the other hand, could turn to liquid assets such as stocks or bonds or other savings. The median white household had a wealth that totaled more than $140,000, while black Americans had $11,000.

Why do I have the money I have saved up?

  1. I grew up in a middle class town with access to a good public education and extracurriculars.
  2. I never had to worry about being hungry or my parents not having money to pay the bills each month.
  3. My parents were able to save enough to put me through college without loans.
  4. My parents were able to purchase a home in a nice middle class neighborhood with a regular loan and move in with mostly other white middle class families which made the value of the neighborhood go up over time.

Aren’t there poor white people too?

Yes, there are poor white people. That’s an issue as well. There are areas where white people (and people of all colors) do not have access to clean water or a good education. Talking about black systemic racism does not mean that these other issues aren’t issues. We can talk about them separately. We can focus on them one at a time and understand why the problem exists in the first place and then work together to fix them.

“Once in the middle class, it’s harder for African American’s to stay there. More than half of African Americans raised in the middle quintile fall out of the middle as adults, compared to a third of whites.”

The long history of redlining in this country is a huge part of the problem. Decades after the formal end of redlining, blacks and Hispanics are less likely to be homeowners than their white counterparts. While homeownership is not the only way to wealth or the best way to wealth, the reality is the most people do not know how to save or invest their money otherwise. Home owners are forced to save over the years, and they also see their initial downpayment increase in value as their home grows in value over time.

You know what’s fucked up?

Research shows that property values start to decline when a neighborhood becomes populated by 10 percent black residents (source.)

Black young adults are more likely to owe on student loans (44 percent) compared to white young adults (35 percent.)

Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth.

African American families were prohibited from buying homes in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, but the Federal Housing Administration weren’t able to gain equity. So, now, just 60-80 years later, just 2 generation’s later, unsurprisingly we see a whole lot of inequality in wealth building when you look at the black people  vs the white people.

My grandparents were poor first or second generation immigrant families. My mother’s parents never purchased property. She was able to move up in economic class by marrying my father. He came from a lower middle class family as well, a large working class family. But that family was able to purchase a house and send their kids to a good public school which got most of them into college where they obtained good jobs and were able to then get loans for their own houses in the suburbs and continue to move up economically. Now, I am able to do the same. This is a privilege.

Today, not only are we still segregated, we have extreme gaps in poverty and education opportunities. Yes, some kids from lower income areas are able to overcome adversity and end up at Harvard or Yale or Stanford with a well-deserved scholarship. These kids are the outliers. Most don’t even graduate high school. If I went to the schools they go to, I doubt I would have graduated high school.

Students of color in the largest 100 cities are more likely to attend schools where most of their peers are poor or low-income (source.)  Local property taxes pay for schools, and when local property taxes are low, so are the funds to pay for a decent education.

Researchers have found that the single-most powerful predictor of racial gaps in educational achievement is the extent to which students attend schools surrounded by other low-income students.

Sadly, when you have a situation like this that feels inescapable, when you have communities held back by the racism that has torn apart their people for generations (I haven’t even mentioned a little thing called slavery which we had here in the US not that long ago) you end up with people who feel stuck and seek other ways to escape. There are criminals of all colors and at all ends of the class spectrum (plenty on Wall Street) but the ones that are punished the most by our police and legal system are those who have no way to support their own cases. Black men are sentenced to more time for the same crimes compared to white men (source.) This is not to say that we should not prosecute criminals, but we need fair and equal treatment regardless of skin color.

Black men constitute 6 percent of the US adult population but are approximately 35 percent of the prison population and are incarcerated at a rate six times that of white males.

In federal courts, the average sentence during 2008 and 2009 was 55 months for whites and 90 months for blacks.

Then, we have events like what we’ve witnessed these past weeks:

George Floyd –– whether or not he tried to use a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes is irrelevant. He was murdered by 4 police officers for maybe using a fake $20 bill. Really? What kind of justice is that? They murdered him in broad daylight. Many of us have seen the video. He called out for his mother. It is heartbreaking. Many other black men and women have died at the hands of police without being documented on video. We have a major problem with our police system. I support the police and think there are good cops but there are many bad ones and there needs to be psychological testing and training and misconduct reviews and firings to stop this mistreatment and murder.

Breonna Taylor — a bright young 26 year old EMT, who was in her own apartment when the cops came busting in, in the middle of the night, with a no knock warrant for someone who didn’t live there. Her boyfriend thought they were robbers, he shot at them in the confusion, they shot back and shot Breonna 8 times. She died. The cops have not been arrested.

Ahmaud Arbery — a 25 year old black man went jogging to get some exercise one beautiful day in Georgia and three white guys chased him down and murdered him. They were not arrested immediately because they claimed self defense and said he matched the profile of a robber in their neighborhood. They hit him with a truck and then shot him point blank.

This is the story of George, Brenna, and Ahmaud. It is also the story of every black man and woman who have to live their life in fear because us white people are too scared to get a little uncomfortable and admit there is a problem. A big problem. The system is set up to protect us. Yes, there are horrible cops who will be assholes to people of all colors. But the numbers don’t lie. Black people are the target of more police brutality and violence than any other race.

Between 2013 and 2019, police in the United States killed 7,666 people, according to data compiled by Mapping Police Violence, a research and advocacy group. Once these figures are adjusted for the population size and demographics, in nearly every state, African Americans face a significantly higher risk of being killed by police officers than white Americans (source.)

So what can we do? I’m asking myself that everyday. I don’t know the answer. I post articles like this, because it’s important to educate ourselves. I’m looking into organizations to donate to, like CampaignZero, to fight a lack of police oversight. I’m having conversations with every person who will listen. There’s so much more to do, but this is a start. This isn’t a democrat vs republican issue. This is a human rights issue. This is an American issue. And everyone deserves the same opportunities and same freedoms and same protection from police as everyone else. That isn’t how things work today. And we have to do something to change that.

Have an idea how we can make a difference? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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