Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Back in March, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development published a startling report on the wealth gap: “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future” (pdf), reveals that black women have a median wealth of $100 and Hispanic women $120—a staggering disparity stacked up alongside the median wealth of white men ($43,800), white women ($41,500), and black men ($7,900).
There’s been plenty of ink spilled over recession and recovery, but this report, the first measurement to probe the intersection of the gender and racial wealth gaps, barely registered with mainstream media, Extra! reports. And this type of information is critical to understanding the nature of and effectively responding to our present economic troubles. As Julie Hollar writes:
While income is the most common measurement for inequality, wealth—an individual’s assets minus their debts—reveals even greater disparities in the United States. While the top 1 percent received 21 percent of the income in 2006, it held over 34 percent of the wealth (UCSC.edu, 2/10). And racial disparities are drastically greater in terms of wealth than in terms of income.
Wealth can be more relevant to people’s lives, too, particularly in a time of economic crisis. Not only does wealth have a lot to do with the ability to retire or support yourself in old age, people of all ages are much more likely to lose their homes or otherwise find themselves unable to support themselves or their families without savings or assets to fall back on during economic hardship. And, indeed, women of color have had the highest foreclosure rates of any group during the current recession—both as a result of their lack of wealth and their being targeted for subprime mortgages, regardless of their income level (National Council of Negro Women, 6/09).
Wealth also helps people get ahead: Home equity can be borrowed against to send children to college, for example, and wealth can be passed down through the generations to provide them with more stability, access and options. Research has found that family wealth is the biggest predictor of the future economic status of a child, giving lie to the old American “bootstraps” mythology.