Chapter 8: Welfare and Wealth
The concept of income varies from individual to individual. Factors such as family, location, and occupation contribute to the meanings and interpretations of income. Blue collar workers are more familiar with wages, in which their income is expressed in dollars per hour. White collar jobs have incomes that are based on monthly and yearly salaries. On the other hand, wealth refers to the total value of one’s assets minus the cumulation of one’s debts. Net worth is the cumulative total of assets minus all debts. One problem with the way that wealth has been measured is that few can report their total wealth without consulting a series of documents. In addition, due to institutionalized racism and the history of slavery, African Americans lack generational wealth and the prevalence of occupational segregation contributes to their constraint for gaining wealth.
Occupational segregation is caused by multiple factors including legacy, discrimination, blocked access, inadequate preparation, and educational attainment. All of these contribute to disparities in income for African American families. The median household income for African Americans is 62% of what Whites earn, however this does not include the disproportionately high number of unemployed individuals. In every income category less than $50k, African Americans are overrepresented in comparison to whites and at every income category greater than $50k, whites are disproportionately represented. African Americans are twice as likely to be poor due to the fact that 27.4% of African American households earn less than $15k whereas only 13.4% of whites live in households with sparing incomes. Little attention is paid to the fact that the income gap is greater among affluent families between African Americans and whites. This race gap contributes to our understandings of inequality of social class.
The differences in wealth between African Americans and whites can be explained through generational wealth, in which the analysis of occupational, educational, and income equality is critical for understanding the accumulation of wealth over time. The internal stratification of wealth versues welfare between African Americans and Whites is explained by the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Whites have been able to work in professions that have accumulated wealth over the course of several hundred years. Comparatively, African Americans have only been able to accumulate such wealth until just recently. Additionally, African Americans are more likely to have come from lower and middle class backgrounds than their white counterparts, in which they have to personally invest more in order to prepare for their profession. The burden of student loans disproportionately affects African American families because of their wealth disparity.
White households have ten times more wealth than African American households. Even when incomes are separated into brackets of hierarchy, white households hold three times as much wealth as African American households in the same income bracket. Among the poorest Americans, the bottom 20% of the income distribution, white households hold 420 times more wealth than African American households in the same income bracket. These statistics display that income and wealth disparities are a result of institutionalized racism as well as occupational segregation. These factors make it extremely difficult for African Americans to progress social and economic ladders of society.
The “American Dream” promises that Americans who work hard will achieve success and rewards. The American Dream is measured by four key components; owning a single family home, affordability of quality child care, college education for one’s children, and full health insurance. Achieving the American Dream is all dependent on the individuals’ starting position. Housing is one of the most critical factors for achieving the American Dream, as property is a great indicator for wealth. The value of one’s home is critical for understanding disparities in wealth. It is estimated that 2-10 million individuals have faced incidents of racial housing discrimination each year. As a result of predatory mortgage practices, African Americans lose upwards of $25 billion annually.