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The Median Net Worth of Black Bostonians Is Lower Than the Cost of Lunch

Jonathan Lin/Flickr Creative Commons
Jonathan Lin/Flickr Creative Commons

There isn’t a whole lot you can get in a major East Coast city for $8. Meals at most lunch spots, once you include tax, will run higher than that (a Shake Shack double costs $8.09, for example).

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But that amount—a measly $8—is making the rounds thanks to a Boston Globe spotlight investigation that delves into the city’s history of racism.

Citing a study from 2015, “The Color of Wealth,” the Boston Globe listed the median wealth of a series of Bostonians based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. The median net worth for white households in Boston, for example, was $247,500. For Caribbean-born black people, it was $12,000.

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But for blacks native to the U.S., the median net worth of an entire household was just $8. Some readers thought it was a typo, prompting the Globe to publish another article explaining that it wasn’t.

Put another way, that means the median white household in Boston is worth nearly 31,000 times more than a black American household.

Net worth was even lower for Dominicans living in the Boston area. The median net worth of their households was $0.

So how does this happen? It’s important to separate net worth (or wealth) from income. Wealth measures the total number of assets—both financial (your income, your 401[k], your life insurance) and tangible (your house, your car)—minus your total debt (your student loans, your mortgage, your credit card balances).

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In 2015, the difference between black American Bostonians owning more than what they owed was one meal.

The reasons that black American households would have fewer assets and more debt are myriad and historical: Black Americans have been systematically denied access to assets (housing discrimination, job discrimination and the carceral state are but a few factors), while being uniquely vulnerable to debt. Even now, a relatively new phenomenon—the student loan crisis—disproportionately affects black grads.

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Boston isn’t exactly atypical when it comes to racial wealth disparities, either. The gap is certainly starker, but study after study makes clear that the overall picture for black American wealth is bleak. One recent study found that black middle-class households nationwide were losing wealth—and if such trends continued, they were only a few decades away from having zero net worth.

In Boston, as with the rest of the country, the wealth gap isn’t accidental: Racially restrictive housing covenants were intentional. Redlining was intentional. Predatory loans wereand remain—intentional.

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The worth of black American households in Boston isn’t a typo—nor is it a mistake.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

Staff writer, The Root.

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DISCUSSION

SweetJamesJones
SweetJamesJones

It’s probably accurate. Before ~1970 (closer to 1980), there was no way to really gain wealth for native born Black Americans. You couldn’t get a high paying job, and you couldn’t get a business loan. Black people were stuck taking jobs as terrible wages essentially living paycheck to paycheck with no savings.

Black people can now get good jobs and business loans, but the 400 or 500 years of wealth that was stolen remains in the hands of white people who don’t want to give it back. That is why Republicans favor tax breaks for the wealthy over direct aid and elimination of the estate tax. It’s because the white people have wealth, and their entire platform is based on keeping the wealth in white America.

As a Black person, you have to go into more debt to get educated, then you will have a hard time getting a job and get a lower salary when you do. It’s going to take more than one generation to overcome the deficit, because this is the first generation that can pay off the loans and meet the debt to buy a home. We are still in the first generation where some Black people will get an inheritance instead of a bill when their parents die.

Don’t worry about these stats. Just keep doing the right things with money, and we will catch up. It’s just going to take 4 or 5 generations, because no one is going to help us.