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The Racial Wealth Gap in the United States

While poverty can impact people of any race, gender, or (dis)ability, the statistics are very clear on the racial wealth gap in the United States: people of color (POC) on average have far fewer resources than white people.

Because of these, people of color are far more likely to live in poverty than white people in the US. While not every white person is wealthy, wealth has historically been held by white people a vast majority of the time. For example, the mean wealth of white families ($171,000) is ten times that of Black families ($17,150) - and those figures from the Brookings Institution report are from 2016, before COVID-19, which has had more drastic impacts on the wealth gap.

Figure 1: Median Net Worth by Race/Ethnicity, 1989-2016, Brookings Institution

White people are more likely to be hired and promoted, to be accepted into college, to have had family assets, to have lower-interest loans, to avoid the personal and familial repercussions of the prison industrial complex, and so much more. And these privileges have been compounding for centuries. Because of this systemic racism, white people do not face the racialized discrimination that keeps people of color in poverty.

Additionally, while a white person may not have a lot of wealth themselves, they have more proximity to wealth. Many people are more likely to form relationships with those of their own race, such as in friend groups, the workplace, and family. This means that a white person’s family, friends, coworkers, and peers are more likely to also be white and therefore have more wealth when directly compared to people of color.

No matter how you look at it, people of color have historically had less access to wealth; this has compounded over the centuries but has not disappeared. Mutual aid presents an opportunity for those who have wealth due to their privilege (such as being born white) to redistribute life-saving cash to those who have been forced into situations of poverty by inequality and systemic racism.

Next time, we’ll look at how mutual aid can act as a form of reparations owed to the people of color who have been systematically disenfranchised by the racial wealth gap for hundreds of years.

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