Institute on Assets and Social Policy

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Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Project

“Assets, Economic Security, and Racial Wealth Analysis”

IASP continues to build its research, partnership building, and communication strategy to impact public opinion and policy development on economic security across the life-course, widening wealth inequality and the racial wealth gap. With past research, IASP found that the wealth gap of the same households followed over time widened dramatically from 1984 to 2009, increasing from $85,000 to $236,500. The median net worth of white households in the study has grown to $265,000 over the 25-year period compared with just $28,500 for the black households.

The dramatic increase in the racial wealth gap materialized and accelerated despite the country’s movement beyond the Civil Rights era into a period of legal equality and the election of the first African-American president. The resulting “toxic inequality” now threatens the U.S. economy and indeed, American society. Given the dramatic gap in racial wealth, IASP researchers set out to determine what was driving the disparity today. They were able to statistically validate five “fundamental factors” that together account for two-thirds of the proportional increase in the racial wealth gap. Those factors are home ownership, family income, employment stability, college education, and family financial support and inheritance. 

Assets, Economic Security, and Racial Wealth Analysis is an ongoing grant that is structured around:

  • Strategic Research and Policy Development
  • Racial Wealth Audit™ launch and implementation
  • Policy Development and Strategic Partnerships. 

Strategic Research and Policy Development

IASP develops strategies, processes, and policy alternatives that enable vulnerable populations to build resources and access opportunities to live securely and participate fully in all aspects of social and economic life. Building upon previous research on the drivers of the racial wealth gap, IASP is expanding its knowledge base by further developing the findings of previous years’ analysis into evidence-informed policy briefs. Two related projects propel this initiative forward: Leveraging Mobility series and The Drivers of Wealth Inequality and the Racial Wealth Gap series.  These two projects provide fundamental knowledge that enables strategic policy development and engagement to reduce wealth inequality, the racial wealth gap, and build economic security for all families, particularly for the growing number of U.S. households facing increased economic vulnerabilities. 

Racial Wealth Audit™ Launch and Implementation

IASP research has notably revealed the importance of policy as the biggest drivers of widening wealth inequalities by race, highlighting that policy can also both exacerbate and combat wealth disparities (Shapiro, Meschede et al. 2013), even when these policies did not have explicit intentions to impact wealth inequality by race. In fact, some well-intentioned policies have had unwittingly negative impacts on the racial wealth gap (Shapiro 2004). Frequently, policy impacts on the racial wealth gap are and have been unintended consequences of policy design, rather than explicitly part of policy efforts.

Currently, the best organizational tools and simulations with the capacity to project policy consequences focus on distribution by income. Thus, there is a clear need for a new tool which allows policymakers and analysts to focus policy deliberations on the direct impacts of policies on the racial wealth gap. Given the value of bringing a racial wealth analysis frame to policy deliberations, the Racial Wealth Audit™ is a new framework and empirical tool that assesses policies on disparities in wealth by race. This tool facilitates constituency, organizational, advocate, and policymaker equity-based engagement in the policy process and public debate. To avoid direct and negative impacts on the racial wealth gap, we need to assess potential impacts of current and proposed policies on the racial wealth gap as a normal feature of the policy process. 

Click to read more about the Racial Wealth AuditTM Tool.

Policy Development and Strategic Partnerships

Collective impact is needed to transform the most critical issues to America’s futures such as building economic security, bending the curve on wealth inequality, and closing the racial wealth gap. IASP has been building partnerships and collaborations as part of a concerted strategy to move public understanding and move to policy impact. We engage with four constituency sectors: statewide asset building coalitions, state partners with constituency-based organizations, national intermediary organizations and national policy organizations. 

IASP works with state asset-building coalitions and continually seeks to develop new relationships with grass root constituencies. IASP engages partners through in-person meetings, phone discussions, webinars, and presentations about the data to surface how the racial wealth gap fits into policy frameworks and advocacy. A consistent exchange of ideas and planning serves as a basis for ongoing discussions on how racial wealth gap work most effectively integrates with policy frameworks, advocacy, and constituency building. 

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