Mortgage Bias: Economic Jim Crow
Wells Fargo's $175 million settlement might be too little, too late for many blacks and Latinos.
This pattern has been replicated across America and contributes to the disproportionately high unemployment rate of 14.4 percent for blacks and 11 percent for Latinos, while white Americans continue to experience an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent -- nearly a full percentage point less than the national average. But the damage -- which is systemic and now affects access to future credit because of lower credit scores -- will have a negative impact on generations of African Americans in the same way that slavery, legalized discrimination and the war on drugs continue to plague our communities.
Thomas Perez echoed the concerns of economists and civil rights activists when he addressed the effect of poor credit ratings on minorities. "The impacts of lending discrimination and the harm to a person's credit can be far-reaching -- inhibiting a range of opportunities that affect a person's ability to find housing, good employment or access to higher education," Perez told the Washington Post.
Herein lie the reasons that the race-based generational wealth disparity persists. Losing your home leads to a bad credit rating; a stalled economy and institutional discrimination make you less likely to find employment; and you need good credit for most private student loans and many middle-class jobs -- thus limiting nearly all of your options. As a result, far too many African Americans and Latinos become trapped in a cycle of poverty. These circumstances are particularly disturbing given that the banks profited and received bailouts funded by tax dollars paid to the government by the very workers their discrimination affected.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have been committed to uprooting these destructive practices, but it seems that the system is too thoroughly corrupt. Just to place Wells Fargo's $175 million settlement in perspective, it represents only 4 percent of the bank's latest $4.2 billion quarterly profits. And banking bonuses in 2011 were at an all-time high. This means that as unemployment steadily rises in minority communities and the effects of racial discrimination continue to be felt, the people who caused the crisis enjoy the fruits of their ill-conceived labor.
As the presidential campaign is being waged, President Obama's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, boldly promotes a platform of deregulation -- promising to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to repeal Dodd-Frank banking regulations. Such acts would serve only to further promote a plutocratic economic elite who feed off the malaise of the black, the brown and the poor.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing regularly on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.