In this past Sunday's New York Times, there was an article about the growing racial wealth gap. Lots of people know about the gender gap in pay, the statistics show a stubborn gap in pay between men and women, all things being equal (controlled for education, experience etc.). Despite gains in educational attainment, college graduated working women today still make only 82% of what their male peers make. The causes of the gender pay gap are factors such as occupation segregation (women go into less high paying fields than men), women spend more time outside of the work force because of childcare and elder-care duties, and women tend not to negotiate their salaries as aggressively as men do.
The gender gap is persistent, but arguably, the racial wealth gap is even more depressing. Why? Because that gap has cumulative multi-generational effects. As Annie Lowrey in the New York Times article wrote:
Many experts consider the wealth gap to be more pernicious than the income gap, as it perpetuates from generation to generation and has a powerful effect on economic security and mobility. Young black people are much less likely than young white people to receive a large sum from their parents or other relatives to pay for college, start a business or make a down payment on a home, for instance. That, in turn, makes their wealth-building prospects shakier as they move into adulthood.
Thus, the tragedy of the racial wealth gap is that the disabilities of one generation impede the next generation's progress and things start to snowball in a bad direction. Further, while the recession hit everyone, it hit minority families harder. Lowrey observes:
Black families also suffered bigger hits to their retirement savings, the Urban Institute found. On aggregate, the value of black families’ retirement accounts shrank 35 percent between 2007 and 2010, while white families’ accounts actually gained 9 percent over the same period. With lower earnings and higher unemployment rates leaving them with a thinner safety net to begin with, black families were more likely to take funds out of the market when it was depressed, leaving them out in the cold as the market recovered.
In other words, the recession made the poor poorer and the rich and middle class were OK.
As our society makes strides in some areas of equality, such as the quest for the LGBT community for equal marriage rights, it has still been unable to solve the intractable problems of structural inequality. When one looks to Washington and sees something as clear cut as passing common- sense gun laws after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy end in partisan defeat, one has little optimism that our government can or will tackle even more complex, multi-layered problems such as the gendered wage gap and the racial wealth gap.