In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois said in The Souls of Black Folks: "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardship."
One of the most important, but ignored in most US media, stories of the last week highlights this hardship in a striking way. A study, published by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University (one of my alma maters) found that the wealth gap between blacks and whites quadrupled between 1984 to 2007; from $20,000 in 1984 to $95,000 in 2003! This gap persisted for African Americans and white families in the same income range. Wealth is defined by what you own minus what you owe, so this is a much more robust and important measure than income or poverty status. What we need to remember is that income quality doesn’t lead to racial wealth equality and this helps explain the persistence of racial and ethnic health inequities!
These data are disturbing for blacks and Latinos, and especially for single women of color:
One reason for this is racism in our policies - such as tax cuts for investment income (the tax rate on capital gains income is only 15% while ordinary paycheck income is taxed at 35%) and inheritance taxes - both of which benefit the already (mostly white) and wealthy. Persistent discrimination in housing, credit (think predatory/subprime lending, credit-card debt and pay day loans/check cashing stores), and labor-markets also perpetuate these wealth inequities.
The solutions? TARGETED PUBLIC POLICIES, with the federal government leading the way! Federal policies must close tax loopholes exploited by businesses and redistribute the wealth of the rich - whose wealth often relies on federal government built highways and tax codes. New wealth building opportunities must be targeted to families and communities of color whose lives and health are made even more precarious by not having enough assets to stay healthy when an economic challenge arises.