skip to main content
    Slideshow Icon 2 slides
Enlarge Icon
Credit: KUOW Illustration/Kara McDermott

White people have so much more wealth — and we’re not talking about it

Many white Americans believe that black Americans earn close to what their own families make. The truth is far different.

Blacks, on average, earn half of what whites do in this country.

Scientists at Yale University asked people to compare how black and white Americans were doing in relation to each other on a number of economic measures. The researchers said most people far overestimated how close to equality the two groups are.

Marieka Klawitter teaches public policy at the University of Washington. She told Emily Fox that a lot of factors contribute to the wage gap.

“We love to believe in the American dream, that if we work hard we can get ahead. We believe that other people will also work hard and that will pay off. It’s hard for us to see the systemic elements like racism that feeds into how much people earn,” Klawitter said.

In fact, for every $100 earned by white families, black families earn about $57.

And that’s not the biggest discrepancy: In terms of assets, for every $100 of wealth held by a white family, black families have just $5.

“There are many barriers to economic equality for African Americans, like where people live," Klawitter said.

Residential segregation, she said, affects the quality of schools and access to good health care. "All of these elements are huge components to us being able to go to school and have a good job and to earn money.”

A history of wealth also contributes to this chasm. For example, big purchases like buying a home or college are made easier if parents help with a down payment or tuition.

"These generational increases in wealth are a very important element for most [white] Americans,” Klawitter said.

And when it comes to finding a job, Klawitter said it's very much segregated by race. “There are so many institutions, even before you get to the job market and who you know and whether you’re on a job ladder in your organization," she said.