Recession Widens Wealth Gap Between Races

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    of Hispanics — who derived nearly two-thirds of their net worth from home equity — declined by 66 percent by 2009. Among Blacks, who now have the highest unemployment rate at 16.2 percent, their household wealth fell 53 percent from $12,124 to $5,677.

    In contrast, the median wealth of Whites dipped a modest 16 percent from $134,992 to $113,149, cushioned in part by a stock market recovery that began in mid-2009.

    ”The findings are a reminder — if one was needed — of what a large share of Blacks and Hispanics live on the economic margins,” said Paul Taylor, director of Pew Social & Demographic Trends. ”When the economy tanked, they’re the groups that took the heaviest blows.”

    The latest data come as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders try to reach a deal to avoid a U.S. default on its financial obligations after Aug. 2. Democrats and Republicans have been wrangling over proposals that could cut trillions of dollars from programs such as Medicare and Social Security; they are divided over whether to bring in new tax revenue, such as by closing corporate tax loopholes or increasing taxes for the wealthy. Obama took his message directly to the people Monday night by expressing his frustrations.

    The NAACP and other Black groups urged Obama to resist deep cuts to housing assistance or safety net programs, saying it would disproportionately hurt urban areas with high poverty and unemployment. The U.S. poverty rate currently stands at 14.3 percent, with the ranks of the working-age poor at the highest level since the 1960s. Some analysts believe the poverty rate will climb higher when new figures are released in September.

    ”Typically in recessions, minorities suffer from being last hired and first fired. They are likely to lose jobs more rapidly at the beginning of the recession, and are far slower to gain jobs as the economy recovers,” said Harrison, who is now a sociologist at Howard University. ”One suspects that Blacks who lost jobs in the recession, or who have tried to help family members or relatives who did, have now spent whatever savings or other cashable assets they had.”

    Other findings:

    About 35 percent of Black households and 31 percent of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15 percent of White households. In 2005, the comparable shares were 29 percent for Blacks, 23 percent for Hispanics and 11 percent for Whites.

    *Asians lost their top ranking to Whites in median household wealth, dropping from $168,103 in 2005 to $78,066 in 2009. Like Hispanics, many Asians were concentrated in states like California hit hard by the housing downturn. More recent arrivals of new Asian immigrants, who tend to be poor, also pushed down their median wealth.

    *Across all race and ethnic groups, the wealth gap between rich and poor widened. The share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of U.S. households increased from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2009. The threshold for entry into the wealthiest top 10 percent, however, dipped lower: from $646,327 in 2005 to $598,435.

    The numbers are based on the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which sampled more than 36,000 households on wealth from September-December 2009. Census first began publishing wealth data from this survey, broken down by race and ethnicity, in 1984.

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