The wealth gap between white and African-American households almost tripled within the past 25 years according to a study released on Wednesday by Brandeis University.
The study, (PDF) conducted by the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy, tracked 1,700 working-age households between 1984 and 2009 and concluded that the disparity between white and black families went from $85,000 to $236,500 during that period.
According to the study, there was "little evidence" that commonly-held perceptions about personal choices and behaviors held true when it came to measuring the ability to accumulate wealth.
"In my estimation, policies and institutional practices are the main story," said the institute's director, Tom Shapiro, who was the principal author of the report, during an online seminar on Wednesday.
Instead, the study pointed to what researchers described as "the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools, and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life."
Though the study focused on comparing the black and white communities, said seminar moderator Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of the social equity research group PolicyLink, the effects could be seen playing out elsewhere.
"We know that many communities of color exactly are facing the same challenges," Blackwell said. The nation's ability to achieve sustained growth and prosperity hinges on how quickly we can erase lingering racial and class divides and fully apply everyone's talent and creativity to building the next economy. This nation must erect a policy framework that advances a new growth model and is driven by equity."
The study found that nearly 66 percent of the wealth gap was driven by a variety of factors, such as unemployment, inheritances and wealth accumulation. For instance, a $1 increase in average income over the course of the study, generated 69 cents in additional wealth for an African-American household compared with $5.19 for a white household, in part because black households had fewer opportunities to grow their savings beyond money needed for emergencies.
Shapiro's team also found that white households were able to begin the home appreciation process sooner than their black counterparts. Janis Bowdler, Director of Economic Policy with National Council of La Raza, attributed that to a failed national policy on home ownership.
"I would say that right now, our housing policy is really adrift," she said. "We don't have a guiding federal goal or ethos to help us steer priorities."
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