This week, Newsweek reporter Sam Schwarz wrote an article on the state of black wealth titled “Most Black People Aren't Poor, But The U.S. Media Tells You Otherwise”. Based on a co-commissioned report by the advocacy groups Color of Change and Family Story. The interesting thing about the article is that it was largely missing numbers to support the claim. The only numbers in the piece don’t support the narrative of black wealth in America he attempts to put forward.
Black families make up just 27 percent of the poor and 42 percent of welfare recipients in America. But media reporting would have you believe otherwise, with black families making up 59 percent of the poor and 60 percent of welfare recipients in news and opinion media coverage.
To say a group of African Americans that is 13.3 percent of the population makes up 27 percent of the poor and 42 percent of welfare recipients in America is telling of the dire financial state of that group in and of itself. But digging deeper the analysis Newsweek uses fails to tell the truth about the real story, and that is white America controls almost all of the wealth in this country. White America has 90 percent of the wealth, black America controls around a mere 2.6%.
But let’s go further, the top twenty percent of black families largely retirees control over 90 percent of this small 2.6% slither of wealth in black hands. So the bottom 80 percent of black America really survives on less than a few tenths of a percent of this nations wealth. You know the section of the race that buys new homes, raises families, and pays student debt. In addition, the bottom 50 percent of black America when added together has negative net worth.
The piece, written by Schwarz builds in a presumption of wealth that is inaccurate on the most basic level, that idea being that most black people aren’t poor or working poor in America. As a result, he sidesteps the real work that needs to be done to address why these people are largely poor, and the need to provide solutions to the longstanding policies that keep them that way. From ticketing schemes in Ferguson, Missouri, to the coming Tax Reform bill black poverty is created by systemic mechanisms, not personal choice. After a legacy of building this country through slavery, and being locked out of wealth during Jim Crow the reality is a lack of wealth is baked into the Black American Dream.
As I stated in my piece with Matt Bruenig “Without the Family Car Black Wealth Barely Exists”
When we exclude the family car, we get a somewhat different wealth narrative than the one being told across media platforms nationally. Without the family car, the middle black family has a net worth of $4,160. The middle white American family in contrast, is still worth $140,600. This means, using an accounting model that more accurately excludes the family car, the median white family is worth over 33 times that of the median black family.
In the end the issue isn’t whether most blacks are poor, but rather why they are, and how we can fix it. Watch my 90 second video that explains the racial wealth gap below.
Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System." He has contributed pieces to the Grio, The Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow him on YouTube Channel Tonetalks. Catch his weekly radio show on Dash Radio Fridays 7pm pst