Growth of the Suburbs - and the Racial Wealth Gap
Developed by David M. Seiter
ACTIVITY 5: Deepening Understandings of Race
Wealth Accumulation: Six Jigsaw Readings
But aren't there cultural factors that affect performance
and have nothing to do with wealth?
Dalton Conley: Many social observers point to outcome
differences between Blacks and whites, say in education, where
the college graduation rate for whites is double that of Blacks.
Or in occupational achievement, where whites are twice as likely
to have a white collar or managerial job as Blacks. Or in income,
where white family income is on average about double that of the
African-American unit. Or family structure, where whites are much
more likely than African Americans to delay childbearing past
their teenage years and until marriage. In almost any realm of
life you can think of, there are racial disparities.
Usually when policymakers or social scientists want to compare
the outcomes between Black and white kids, they'll look at kids
who come from families with the same income level. And when you
make that comparison, you'll find that there's still a racial
gap. People often point to this as something cultural or innate.
But often when we're talking about these racial disparities,
we're comparing apples and oranges, because there's still an enormous
wealth gap between those families with the same income level.
And I find that when you make the right comparison - when you
compare a Black kid from a family with the same income and wealth
level as the white kid from the similar economic situation - rates
of college graduation are the same; rates of employment and work
hours are the same; rates of welfare usage are the same.
So when we're talking about race in terms of a cultural accounting
of these differences or a genetic accounting of these differences,
we're really missing the picture, because we're making the wrong
comparison. We're not comparing Blacks and whites on an equal
footing if we don't take into consideration these wealth differences
in addition to the income differences. The real issue is inequality.
How do the racial differences in family wealth affect life
john a. powell: The wealth gap between Blacks and whites
is a crucial factor in the relative health and stability of the
communities they live in. Obviously wealth has a lot to do with
where people are going to live. Where people live has a lot to
do with the kind of schooling their children will have. And the
kind of schooling available has a lot to do with the opportunities
their children will have. Wealth creates the opportunities that
set the next generation's life chances.
One of the difficulties that African American families have is
the constant stress that comes from barely being able to make
it from paycheck to paycheck. People who have wealth can rely
on it during difficult times. When there's a crisis that requires
unforeseen health care expenditures, when there's an investment
that has to be made in a child's schooling, when there's an opportunity
to provide for a son or daughter so that they can purchase a home
- all of these things are dependent not on having sufficient income
but having the kind of assets or wealth that you can draw upon.
It's hard to overstate how important wealth is. We live in a
capitalist society. Often, we focus on income or how much money
somebody makes, but really the thing that buys opportunity is
wealth. If you make $100,000, and you have $120,000 worth of debts
a year you're in trouble. So, you really have to look at disposable
income or wealth.
It's not just individual wealth; it's also collective wealth.
If you live in a community where the whole community is poor or
strapped for money, it can't buy the amenities; it can't make
the kind of difference. Traditionally, Blacks have been located
where there's high need and very few resources, while whites have
often been located where there are low needs and high resources.
Given a choice, most people would prefer to live in a place where
there are higher resources and fewer needs. That choice simply
has not been available to Blacks.
Where you live also determines what kind of school your children
are going to go to, whether you're going to be close to transportation,
and whether you're going to live next to a toxic dump site or
not. There was also a recent article in the New York Times about
heart attacks - it showed that where you live, what kind of community
you live in has a tremendous correlation with whether or not you
have a heart attack.
So, the way space is arranged actually impacts our health and
opportunities in fundamental ways, and wealth is one of the best
indicators of that.
Questions for READING F:
- What happens if you compare outcomes and performance (e.g.
graduation rates) of racial groups after correcting for income?
After correcting for wealth?
- How does lack of wealth negatively affect performance and
health among African Americans?
<BACK TO TOP