June 8, 2022
This week Bloomberg released two stories about inequality that almost read like foils to one another. In the first, Ben Steverman noted how the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households (those with less than $166,000 in wealth) have seen their household wealth nearly double from 2019-2021. In the second, Chris Anstey reported on how two economists found that Black Americans had one-sixth of the wealth of white Americans per capita as of 2019. This, the story noted, meant that the racial wealth gap had in fact widened since 1980 – four decades ago(!).
Though this second story reflected information prior to the pandemic, the economic boost felt by those occupying the lower half of America’s wealth spectrum due to Covid relief payments and a favorable job market appears to have done little to change its message. As the author of the first piece wrote, “[t]he last two years…don’t seem to have made a large dent in the nation’s wide and persistent racial wealth gap…” We are here to tell you that this should come as no surprise.
Attempts to address U.S. inequality through race-neutral lenses fails to account for the racialized ways in which inequality confronts Black Americans. Black workers are disproportionately and unfairly excluded from jobs. Black citizens are over-taxed and under-serviced. And most importantly for our work, Black families face unequal access to mortgages, indefensible home devaluation, and functional exclusion from 93 percent of zip codes in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan regions.
Solving inequality more broadly requires redress for the history of racial harm that has inhibited Black prosperity, well-being, and access. When it comes to housing, this means finding specific redress for over a century of private practices and government policies that have denied Black families the ability to build generational wealth through residential stability and homeownership. As Rick Jacobus wrote in a recent article for Shelterforce, though many fair housing programs have attempted to do exactly this by using geographic or income-specific targeting, such programs that address racial inequality “by proxy” will inevitably fall short of their ultimate aspirations. “Colorblindness is fundamentally at odds with what is strategically and emotionally necessary for us to move forward as a people,” Jacobus argued. Colorblindness does not explain why Black families encounter higher property tax burdens than white families in the same neighborhood. Colorblindness does not explain why Black applicants find themselves systematically denied mortgages at a higher rate than white ones regardless of their income.
Without redress, efforts to end wealth inequality will not end racial inequality but alter its texture. Without redress, inequalities between people of different races of the same incomes will maintain even as broader wealth disparities close. This is especially true when it comes to the racial wealth gap that segregation—as faced by Black Americans of all incomes—helped build.
The Redress Movement is a new effort organizing everyday Americans to investigate and document how their communities became so segregated, and to then act to redress the historic wrongs they uncover. If you would like to participate in this new movement, hear more about the work of Redress, or engage with more news stories like this one, sign up with us and keep an eye out for news updates on our website. Also be sure to explore our resource pages where you can learn more about segregation’s history and consequences, read through the vocabulary of segregation, or use our Citizens’ Guide to discover how segregation affects your community.
Back soon with more updates!
–The Redress Movement Research Team