Research has shown time and again that a deep wealth gap persists between white people and people of color. Experts say that much of the income disparity is caused by racial bias, although some would argue that it's driven by a class divide. It seems, though, that troubling new data has debunked the latter theory by revealing that racism affects Black boys for life, no matter where they were raised or their family's household income.
An extensive new study by the Equality of Opportunity Project found that Black boys in the United States still earn less as adults than white boys, even when they have similar backgrounds, according to The New York Times. In particular, researchers from Stanford and Harvard Universities, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that Black boys raised by wealthy parents and in well-heeled neighborhoods were more likely to live below the poverty line as adults than their white counterparts, The Times reported.
In fact, the study, which followed the lives of 10,000 boys now in their 30s, found that 39 percent of white boys who grew up rich stayed rich, compared to 17 percent of Black boys. Conversely, 10 percent of white boys ended up poor, compared to 21 percent of Black boys, despite their similarly wealthy backgrounds, according to the findings.
"You would have thought at some point you escape the poverty trap," study author Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist, told The New York Times of the findings.
But, as The Times noted, Hendren's own research shows that "escaping the poverty trap" is an outcome that Black boys, rich or poor, can't assume is available to them. Previous research has found an overwhelming fissure in monetary value between Black and white families: Current census Bureau statistics show that a black family in the United States holds just $5.04 of every $100 in white family wealth, according to The Root. And for every $100 in income earned by a white family, a Black family makes $57.30, according to a 2017 PNAS study.
The average wealth for a white family is $678,737, according to the Economic Policy Institute; for a Black family, it's $95,261. That's a nearly $600,000 difference between the two races. This deep divide is also present when looking at median wealth: $134,230 for a white family, $11,030 for a Black family, EPI reported.
Interesting enough, the Equality of Opportunity Project study didn't find a similarly large income gap between Black and white women. But the researchers theorize that this may be because test scores don't measure the abilities of black children accurately, The Times reported.
Black boys who grew up poor were also more likely to remain poor than their white counterparts, according to the Equality of Opportunity Project's research. Of the Black boys raised in poor families, 48 percent remained in a similar income bracket in their 30's, compared to 31 percent of white boys, The New York Times reported. Conversely, only 2 percent of Black boys from low-income households became wealthy adults, compared to 10 percent of white boys.
Although the disparity in outcomes is not as wide, the data does show that white boys will always fare better no matter their family background. The Equality of Opportunity Project, thus, debunks the idea that the racial wealth gap is informed by class and not race. As Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, told The New York Times:
One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea. But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.
In order to truly tackle this racial wealth gap, policymakers and advocates will have to start staring racism in the face, no matter how uncomfortable it may make them. Otherwise, the gap will widen further and further, putting change and equality further out of reach.
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