On average, as one researcher and author notes, the typical black family has just 10 cents worth of wealth for every dollar that whites have. This disparity, known as the racial wealth gap, helps determine a quality of life, or a standard of living, that is perpetuated from generation to generation. The wealth gap has a lifelong effect that influences the quality of education, access to health care, homeownership, political or social power, and business development.
“Wealth is the one indicator of material disparity that captures the historical legacy of low wages, personal and organization discrimination, and institutionalized racism,” writes Thomas M. Shapiro, a professor and author on two books on America’s wealth divide, including The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. The wealth gulf resulted partly from programs and policies, and programs and policies can help remedy it, according to a 2002 report from the Southern Growth Policies Board, a non-partisan, public policy think tank representing 13 Southern states and Puerto Rico. But the task could prove daunting and take some time. By one estimate, it could take 10 generations to reach wealth parity among blacks and whites.
Though more blacks attend college and earn middle-class incomes, most are not wealthy. Many are living paycheck to paycheck while earning less than their white coworkers. While the income gap appears to be narrowing, the disparity in wealth continues to widen.
This year, the Columbia Urban League commemorates the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and South Carolina’s role in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.
Some proposed remedies - such as addressing educational inequalities - could be implemented quickly. The Columbia Urban League supports access to quality education as one path toward wealth creation. Amid the Brown v. Board of Education celebrations, several rural school districts are suing South Carolina lawmakers for increased funding. Increased funding could be a catalyst for change, particularly in rural South Carolina. . “Education,” says the South Carolina Young Adults State Report, “is closely associated with employment, wages and income.”
Instituting policies that create wealth in rural areas act as a rock tossed in a pond. It sends ripples throughout the community. An asset-rich community produces more business owners, has affluent schools with increased resources and carries political clout. The Columbia Urban League seeks to empower rural communities by supporting policies geared toward wealth creation.
As Shapiro writes, “Wealth is a more important indicator of economic status than current income because wealth brings power and independence.”