Despite the “celebrity exceptionalism” of stars like Lebron James and Oprah Winfrey, the face of affluence in the United States remains overwhelmingly white. Only 1 percent of black families have a net worth above $1.4 million, compared to 9 percent of white families who have that much wealth.
The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as all African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households.
The Great Recession deepened the longstanding racial and ethnic wealth divide in the United States. The typical white family held a net worth six times greater than the typical black family at the end of the 20th century. That gap has now doubled. The wealth gap between white and Latino households has widened as well.
Income and Wealth Inequality
The racial gap in median income has closed slightly over the last 20 years. Nonwhite families earned about half of what white families earned in 1989. This closed to 70 percent in 2007 and slipped back to 65 percent in 2010. But the gap in assets runs much wider. White families claim about six times the net worth of non-white families, a gap that has changed little over the past generation.
The gap in median home value, for white and nonwhite homeowners, narrowed through the housing boom. In 2007, the median nonwhite-owned house held 90 percent of the value that the typical white-owned house held. But the crash saw a sharper decline in both nonwhite housing value and nonwhite rates of home ownership. In 2010, the median primary residence for all nonwhite families, not just homeowners, had about half the value of the homes of white families.