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October 18, 2004 - The New York Times

Study Says White Families' Wealth Advantage Has Grown

By The Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WASHINGTON, (AP) - The enormous wealth gap between white families and black and Hispanic families grew larger after the most recent recession, a private analysis of government data has found.

White households had a median net worth of greater than $88,000 in 2002, 11 times that of Hispanic households and more than 14 times that of black households, the Pew Hispanic Center said in the study, being released Monday.

Blacks were slowest to emerge from the economic downturn that started in 2000 and ended early in 2001, the report found.

Net worth accounts for the value of items like a home and a car, checking and savings accounts, and stocks, minus debts like mortgage, car loans and credit card bills.

Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said the accumulation of wealth allows low-income families to rise into the middle class and "have some kind of assets beyond next week's paychecks."

"Having more assets enabled whites to ride out the jobless recovery better," Mr. Suro said.

According to the group's analysis of Census Bureau data, nearly one-third of black families and 26 percent of Hispanic families were in debt or had no net assets, compared with 11 percent of white families.

"Wealth is a measure of cumulative advantage or disadvantage," said Roderick Harrison, a researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington research organization that focuses on black issues. "The fact that black and Hispanic wealth is a fraction of white wealth also reflects a history of discrimination."

After accounting for inflation, net worth increased 17 percent for white households from 1996 to 2002 and 14 percent for Hispanic homes, to about $7,900. It fell for black households by 16 percent, to roughly $6,000.

The median net worth for all American households, representing all races and ethnicities, was $59,700 in 2002, a 12 percent gain from 1996.

Only white homes recouped all their losses from 2001 to 2002. Both Hispanics and blacks lost nearly 27 percent of net worth from 1999 to 2001; the next year Hispanics gained it almost all back (26 percent), while blacks were up only about 5 percent.

Mr. Harrison said Hispanics were more insulated from the downturn than blacks, so they suffered less. For example, Hispanics made employment gains in lower-paid, lower-skilled areas like service and construction.

Blacks were hit hard by job losses in the manufacturing industry and in professional fields, where they were victims of "last hired, first fired" policies, he said.

(The entire study is available here, from The Pew Hispanic Center website)

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