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Separate and increasingly unequal

from David Ruccio

The United States has never solved the problem of racial inequality. And, in the wake of the financial crash, the problem has only gotten worse.

In fact, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, the racial wealth gap—between white and black and Hispanic households—in 2009 was the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession.

Already, in 2005, there was a tremendous gap in the median net worth of white households versus black and Hispanic household. After the crash, the net worth of all three types of households declined but much more for blacks and Hispanics than whites. Therefore, the racial wealth gap widened.

Another interesting finding in the Pew report is that the percentage of households with zero or negative net worth within all three groups (plus Asians) rose between 2005 and 2009.

Finally, the Pew report shows that wealth disparities increased not only between racial and ethnic groups; they also rose within each group.

Even though the wealthiest 10% of households within each group suffered a loss in wealth from 2005 to 2009, their share of their group’s overall wealth rose during this period. The increase was the greatest among Hispanics, with the top 10% boosting their share of all Hispanic household wealth from 56% in 2005 to 72% in 2009. Among whites, the share of wealth owned by the top 10% rose from 46% in 2005 to 51% in 2009. These trends indicate that those in the top 10% of the wealth ladder were relatively less impacted by the economic downturn than those in the remaining 90%.

Separate and increasingly unequal in the United States is based on a complex combination of race, ethnicity, and class.

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