Solemn memorials marking the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. tended to emphasize how far the U.S. has come in 50 years. On April 4, the media were full of encomiums to the ways in which King’s dream is being realized today.
That portrayal leaves out a few important facts.
To start with, the median net worth of white Americans today, 50 years after King’s death, is nearly 10 times that of African Americans. White families in the U.S. have, to a significant extent, recovered from the recession of 2008-09; not black and Hispanic families.
The net worth of all families dropped an average of 30 per cent during the Great Recession, but, according the U. S. central bank, the Federal Reserve, black and Hispanic families experienced an additional drop of 20 per cent from 2010 to 2013.
White families are twice as likely to own a business than black and Hispanic families; owe far less in student loans; and have far greater amounts invested for retirement, per capita. When times get tough black families have less to fall back on than white families and many are forced to dip into their retirement savings. That is precisely what happened in 2008-09.
Black families also have a significantly lower rate of home ownership than white families, which, given the U.S. tax system, exacerbates the economic gap between black and white. The U.S. tax code, unlike Canada’s, allows homeowners, who are in the large majority white, to deduct interest paid on their mortgages.