Eric Morath, writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, reports that “from advanced degree holders to high-school dropouts, Black workers have substantially higher unemployment rates at every level of educational attainment than white workers—and the disparity has widened this year during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns.”
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This discrepancy is expected to retard Black Americans’ recovery from the 2020 recession, creating a drag on the overall recovery. Beyond slower economic recovery, social costs of the disparity include less stable families, higher rates of incarceration, worse health outcomes, and higher percentages of unsheltered homeless, all requiring additional public assistance.
This is a long-term discrepancy explained by:
- Lower quality elementary and high school educations in racially segregated neighborhoods, resulting in lack of preparation for success in college.
- Lack of transportation and access to child care, limiting employment opportunities.
- Overrepresentation in low wage jobs, resulting in greater susceptibility to swings in the economy, especially in industries such as construction and manufacturing.
- Lack of productivity by employees with lower skill levels, depressing wages.
- Discrimination in hiring, both direct bias against individuals and structural factors in education and health care that limit opportunities.
Housing is an underlying problem in many of these elements. Location is key to access transportation, education, health care, employment opportunities, and even nutrition.
Housing is also key to the acquisition of wealth. Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, a Black woman, vividly describes how even prosperous Black people are disadvantaged: “My ‘hood’ is idyllic, except for one thing. The value of my home in Prince George’s County, Md., would be significantly higher if my husband and I weren’t Black—and if all our neighbors weren’t Black.” The value of homes in a white subdivision with similar economic make-up (doctors, police officers, small business owners) twenty miles away is 40% higher than hers. In Black communities nationwide, homes are undervalued by as much as 65%.
Singletary shows that the key to the net worth of most Americans is the equity accumulated in their homes. This equity creates generational wealth for many white Americans, wealth that can fund college educations or finance small businesses. She points out, “The 2019 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances shows that 45% of Black families own their homes, with a median home value of $150,000. That compares to the 73.7% homeownership rate for white families, with a median home value of $230,000.” These gaps between homeownership and home value “are a major reason the typical white family has almost eight times the wealth of atypical Black family.”
Singletary goes on to show that the disparity between Black and white homeownership is a “legacy of systemic racism that our government created, and in many ways, still isn’t doing enough to eradicate.”
- “Redlining” designated Black neighborhoods as too risky for federally-backed home loans.
- Deliberate segregation of government-built affordable housing complexes.
- Federal Housing Administration (FHA) policies of not guaranteeing mortgages for Black people.
- Veterans Administration’s denial of access to government-guaranteed mortgages to Black veterans.
Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 helped increase Black homeownership, “it hasn’t made things equal because too much racism is baked into the disparity in housing.” In nearly 20% of the ZIP codes where most homeowners are Black, home values have decreased since 2000. By contrast, home values decreased in only 2% of the ZIP codes that are predominantly white. Between 1996 and 2018, the median home value in neighborhoods previously labeled as ‘best’ for mortgage lending rose almost 231% to $640,238, whereas the median values in areas redlined as hazardous based on race rose only 203% to $276,199.
Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation’s 2020 Economic Supplement Report to its New Community Vision for Dallas shows that these disparities apply in Dallas, and in most indicators, Dallas is worse than other large U.S. cities.
The answer to housing disparity—more integration at low- and middle-income levels—will be a long-time coming. Even the high end of the market is not immune to stereotypes that impede integration. A new Black corporate CEO recently moved into a home on one of the most prestigious streets in one of the highest-end communities in Dallas. Quite tall, his neighbors assumed the reason he was able to move into their neighborhood was because he was a professional basketball player. The ultimate solution requires overcoming stereotypes and fears. It requires acknowledging the damages that decades of discriminatory housing policies have done and stopping those policies. It also requires short-term policy fixes, such as programs to fund more first-time buyers can help.
Tackling low-income housing as part of an eco-system of poverty that involves housing, education, transportation, health, and nutrition could accelerate the implementation of ways to put more people on the path to stable housing, employment, and, ultimately homeownership. In the meantime, I can say, with Ron Kirk, the Black former mayor of Dallas and former United States Trade Representative under President Obama, “I still don’t understand why people think that it’s healthy to have a city where all of the wealth and all of the tax base is concentrated in less than a third of the city.”
- Eric Morath, “Racial Gap Shapes Path to Recovery,” Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2020.
- Michelle Singletary, “Being Black Lowers Home Values: Legacy of ‘Redlining,” Dallas Morning News, November 8, 2020.
- Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, A New Community Vision for Dallas: 2020 Economic Supplement Report, 2020. https://dallastrht.org/resources/
- Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, Cambridge, MA, 2017
- Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Out Government Segregated America, New York, 2017
- Jim Schutze, The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City, Secaucus, NJ, 1986