Wealth Gaps Yawn—and So Do the Media

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Linda Zacks / www.extra-oomph.com

Last March, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development released the revelatory report “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future,” which measures wealth gaps according to gender and race. The results are a national embarrassment, but it’s a good guess that you missed the story–because almost no one deemed the data newsworthy.

In the United States, single black women have a median wealth of just $100, while Hispanic women come in at $120. The median wealth of black men is $7,900; white women and men are better off ($41,500 and $43,800 respectively). Looking at people in their chief working years, ages 36 to 49, the gap grows even more cavernous: White women own about 60 percent of white men’s median wealth, which surges to about $70,000. Women of color, meanwhile, have a median wealth of $5.

Five dollars. That’s .05 percent of the wealth owned by men of color in the same age group ($11,000).

In the weeks following the report’s release, the mainstream media all but ignored it, Extra! managing editor Julie Hollar writes in the June 2010 issue. Extra!, a magazine produced by the media watchdog organization FAIR, found only a single national television mention about the wealth gap, one National Public Radio story, two opinion columns, and one lonely newspaper report.

Tim Grant, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer who penned that front-page article, told Extra! he was “shocked and amazed” that his paper was the only one to cover the story. The report, he explained, gave him a wholly new perspective on the struggles of women of color.

Income may be the most common measurement of inequality, but wealth (assets minus debts) has a deeper impact on people’s lives. “Not only does wealth have a lot to do with the ability to retire . . . 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,” Hollar writes. And since family wealth is the single largest predictor of a child’s future economic status, she concludes that the data give the lie to “the old American ‘bootstraps’ mythology.”

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