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Fronteras: Wealth Discrepancies Are Built Into The Racist History Of The U.S.

The coronavirus pandemic has pummeled the U.S. economy and set record-high unemployment rates. But while tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs — including 2.9 million Texans — the nation’s billionaires have seen their collective wealth increase.

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) explored this wealth divide in its new report, “White Supremacy is the Preexisting Condition: Eight Solutions to Ensure Economic Recovery Reduces the Racial Wealth Divide.”

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Credit The Institute for Policy Studies
Between 1983 and 2016, the median Black family saw their wealth drop by more than half after adjusting for inflation. The median white households, on the other hand, saw their wealth jump by a third. The median Latino family saw their wealth rise marginally and has yet to top $10,000.

The country’s racial divide in wealth is an inheritance from our country’s original sin, when Black slaves were capital assets for white plantation landowners.

Systemic injustices did not end with emancipation and they are deeply woven into our society today. This widespread inequality has been laid bare in recent months, as the effects of COVID-19 have proven to disproportionately affect communities of color for a number of reasons.

In terms of the economic impact, the IPS report not only brings historical context to the country’s racial wealth divide, but also exposes an extreme upsurge in the concentration of wealth at the very top.

“If you took the top 12 billionaires, their combined wealth is equal to all the home ownership, wealth (and) home equity of all Blacks in the United States — 17 million households,” said Chuck Collins, co-author of the report and director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS.

He adds the combined wealth of all 640 billionaires in the U.S. amounts to about $3.5 trillion.

 “That is equivalent to the entire Latino population combined. 59 million people,” said Collins.

Omar Ocampo, researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS, also co-authored the report with Collins. He said their research examined public policies and found aid is typically geared towards people who already have wealth.

“It also reflects that wealth is also power. So if wealth is distributed unequally, then your ability to influence public policy is also distributed unequally,” said Ocampo. “And that is reflected in the fact that a lot of assistance goes to people who already have high incomes or are of high net worth.”

As the road to economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continues, the IPS proposes eight solutions aimed at closing the racial wealth divide. That includes improving racial data collection as part of emergency investments, creating a system of emergency income support that transitions to a guaranteed income, and conducting an audit to measure whether each economic recovery proposal advances or hinders the racial wealth divide.

Read the full report here.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren