How wealth inequality has changed in the U.S. since the Great Recession, by race, ethnicity and income


Among lower- and middle-income households, white families have four times as much wealth as black families and three times as much as Hispanic families.

Lower-income white families experienced greater losses in wealth during the recession than lower-income black and Hispanic families did.

The share of lower-income white households that have no wealth or are in debt was higher in 2016 than in 2007, but the opposite is true among lower-income black and Hispanic households.

Racial and ethnic wealth inequality among middle-income families increased with the recession and has not retreated in the recovery.

Wealth gaps between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families are at the highest levels recorded.

Upper-income white families have grown wealthier.


The Barriers Stopping Poor People From Moving to Better Jobs

[T]he supply of workers isn’t increasing fast enough in the rich areas to bring wages down, and isn’t falling fast enough in the poor areas to bring wages up. Why is this? Why have people stopped moving? The reason, economists believe, is that while there are good wages in economically vibrant cities like New York and San Francisco, housing prices are so high that they outweigh any gains people stand to make in earnings.

Of course, high-income cities have always had higher housing prices than low-income areas. But prices in a handful of areas have gotten astronomically higher in recent decades, enough so that they offset the relatively higher wages they offer to low-skilled residents.

What changed? According to Ganong, the reason is that certain cities have increased regulations on development, slowing the construction of new units.

Texas shows that when places are affordable, people will move. The state has infamously eschewed zoning laws, and allows more building than states like California and New York.

The solution to reversing these trends, economists say, is clear: Build more housing in high-opportunity areas…cities need to reverse some of the most stringent regulations on development.

The problem is that current homeowners want prices to stay high so that they can sell for more than they bought. They’ll oppose the construction of new units and push back against changes to zoning.

Education Isn’t the Key to a Good Income

A growing body of research debunks the idea that school quality is the main determinant of economic mobility.

“…differences in local labor markets—for example, how similar industries can vary across different communities—and marriage patterns, such as higher concentrations of single-parent households, seemed to make much more of a difference than school quality. He concludes that factors like higher minimum wages, the presence and strength of labor unions, and clear career pathways within local industries are likely to play more important roles in facilitating a poor child’s ability to rise up the economic ladder when they reach adulthood.

The Myth of American Universities as Inequality-Fighters

Practically none of the variables the economists considered—including per-student spending and teacher salary—could predict which public colleges were best at turning low-income students into high earners. The researchers do present some strong evidence that schools with higher Asian American and immigrant populations have higher mobility. What’s more, they find that even non-Asian American students at colleges with large Asian American populations benefit.