Describing the findings of a recently released report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Institute for Policy Studies can lend itself to the use of all sorts of ominous words.
You could call it troubling. Or sobering. Or highly problematic.
Unfortunately, “not shocking” are two others words that are fitting.
The report, which has made the media rounds over the past week and looks at how public policy decisions over the past 30 years have led to a wealth gap in America, came to a number of concerning conclusions.
It found that if trends continue and we stick to the policy status quo, it will take black families 228 years to accumulate the same amount of wealth that white American families currently enjoy. Jon Talton of The Seattle Times called that revelation “jaw-dropping.”
And for good reason. As the report notes, “That’s just 17 years shorter than the 245-year span of slavery in this country.”
For Latino families, the same accomplishment will take 84 years — or until the year 2097.
I think the framing (of the report) … really helps people see that in a way that is harder for people to deny. ... Economic inequality is the foundation of racial inequality.
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Director of the Corporation for Enterprise Development's Racial Wealth Divide project
Drawing on three decades of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, from 1983 to 2013, the study — co-authored by Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, the Director of the Corporation for Enterprise Development's Racial Wealth Divide project — determined that the average wealth of white families has grown by 84 percent during this time.
That’s 1.2 times the rate of growth for Latinos and three times the rate of growth for the black population.
“If the past 30 years were to repeat,” the report notes, “the next three decades would see the average wealth of white households increase by over $18,000 per year, while Latino and black households would see their respective wealth increase by about $2,250 and $750 per year.”
And, without corrective action, by 2043 — “the year in which it is projected that people of color will make up a majority of the U.S. population,” as the report indicates — the wealth gap between white American families and blacks and Latinos will double, from roughly $500,000 in 2013 to over $1 million.
If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version, it’s this: the report demonstrates something we’ve known anecdotally for some time, that the wealth divide in America — perpetuated by policy decisions that have had a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color — isn’t so much a divide as it is a vast and growing canyon.
So, choose whatever words you want, but the outlook the new report provides is anything but rosy.
“I think it’s reminding us of something the country constantly tries to forget and constantly tries to remember differently,” Asante-Muhammad said Monday. “There’s this idea that America has overcome its racial inequality.”
The report, he says, demonstrates that the opposite is true.
“I think the framing (of the report) … really helps people see that in a way that is harder for people to deny,” Asante-Muhammad said. “Economic inequality is the foundation of racial inequality.”
In a presidential election year, Asante-Muhammad sees the gap as “the No. 1 threat to the American economy.” While he describes himself as “not a very optimistic guy,” he has been encouraged by the fact that there’s been “a growing recognition from grassroots organizations and political leaders that we have to find a way to address these issues” — specifically noting the way themes of economic inequality resonated in the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Back in Tacoma, the picture this new report paints doesn’t come as a surprise to those working on the front lines. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity it presents will be wasted. As Tacoma Urban League President and City Council member Victoria Woodards told me, “There’s nothing like confirmation.”
There’s nothing like confirmation.
Tacoma Urban League President Victoria Woodards
Indeed, the timing of the report, which was officially released earlier this month, provided an opportunity to further the discussion locally.
Which is why, on Monday, with Asante-Muhammad serendipitously in town as part of a planned visit to aid the work of five local organizations that have been toiling under the radar to start addressing the wealth gap in our region, local leadership jumped into action to draw attention to this important work.
Aided by funding from the Northwest Area Foundation's African American Financial Capability Initiative, the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, the Tacoma Chapter of the NAACP, Northwest Leadership Foundation, the United Way of Tacoma Pierce County and the Tacoma Urban League have all been focused on this goal since 2014. It’s included a lot of planning and more than a handful of focus groups.
Later this year, Woodards said things will get real — when the group plans to submit an application for two years of funding to help mobilize a local response.
It’s a daunting task, to be sure. The study Asante-Muhammad helped author lays out a number of potential policy goals, including “an evidenced based, government-wide audit of federal policies to understand the role current policies play in perpetuating or closing the racial wealth divide,” as well as reforms to the federal tax code and addressing “the growing concentration of wealth at the top, predominantly in white hands.”
So where does Tacoma fit into the equation? It’s a fair question.
“Local groups, once they understand racial and economic inequality, can develop best practices to deal with these issues,” Asante-Muhammad assured.
“There is much to be done at the local level,” he continued. “There has to be.”
How the response in Tacoma takes shape remains to be seen.
But if the report makes anything clear, it’s that there’s plenty of work ahead for all of us.