The Racial Wealth Gap Is Worse Than It Was 35 Years Ago

Articles | January 21 2019

By Eillie Anzilotti

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he was in the midst of organizing what was called the Poor People’s Campaign. Its premise was straightforward: The fight for civil rights had to include economic justice and equal opportunity for black people to access and build wealth.

But just over 50 years later, the U.S. is even further away from realizing King’s vision of economic equity. A report from the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies, released to coincide with what would have been King’s 90th birthday, finds that in the past few decades, black wealth has actually dropped by half. Adjusted for inflation, the wealth of white families rose an average of 33% in the same time period. The number of households that control over $10 million (most of them white) shot up 856%.

In policy discussions, says report co-author and IPS project director Josh Hoxie, the wealth gap between white families and families of color tends to be discussed as a separate phenomenon than the growing divide between rich and poor in the U.S. What the IPS report, Dreams Deferred, shows is that they’re undeniably linked. Today, the median black family owns around $3,600 in wealth. The 400 richest families in America own more wealth than all black families in the U.S., and a quarter of Latino families. (Read more)