Stay Classy, America

America, we have a class problem. No, I’m not talking about polemic diatribes, alternate facts, and twitter wars. I’m not talking about our segregated school system. Those are problems but not what I’m here to talk to you about. No, I’m here to talk about money and social status, the hierarchical system of categorization we are all caught up in.

When we talk about the monetary piece of class or socioeconomic status there are normally two indicators used to measure it: median household income and years of education. So, let’s examine them. All data is from the U.S. Census Bureau. Median household income by race and Hispanic origin in 2012 was: Asian $68,636; White non-Hispanic $57,009; All races $51,017; Hispanic (any race) $39,005; Black $33,321. In 2015, the percentage of people 25 and older who achieved a Bachelor’s degree or more was: Asian 53.9%; Non-Hispanic white 36.2%; White alone 32.8%; Black 22.5%; Hispanic of any race 15.5%.

These are not particularly promising numbers but they fail to capture the true level of disparity in our country. Enter the third, often forgotten metric of socioeconomic status – wealth. Wealth is a measure of personal assets minus debts. Median household wealth by race in 2011 from the Survey of Income and Program Participation was: White $111,146; Latino (any race) $8,348; Black $7,113. Black and Latinos families have 6-8 cents to every dollar in wealth of a median white family. That’s a factor of ~15.6! These measurements should never be interpreted as the status of all Americans, simply a median. But if these are the statuses of median Americans, then we need to seriously reconsider how race affects economic holdings.

This infrequently mentioned metric puts on full display not only the sheer size of the disparity in this country and the devastation of systemic racism but also our failure to think about financial property from a generational perspective. For my family, slavery is 6 generations away. Put another way, I have family members who are alive today that knew relatives who were enslaved. The ‘civil rights generation’ is 1-2 generations away. Mass incarceration is ongoing.  A generational approach to wealth is key if we want to get serious about class and income disparities in the United States.

Happy Black History Month with love and melanin.