NPR, June 14, 2022, Why The Racial Wealth Gap Is So Hard To Close
However, starting in the 1980s, the racial wealth gap stopped closing and began widening. In the economists’ dream simulation, convergence would have continued. One important reason for this reversal is Black Americans stopped making progress in catching up to the incomes of white Americans. Stuck with lower incomes, they’ve trailed behind in their ability to save and invest.
If America really wanted a policy to completely close the racial wealth gap sooner rather than later, Derenoncourt says, the only thing that would do it anytime soon is some sort of big wealth redistribution. Something akin to but even bigger than General Sherman’s order to give Black Americans 40 acres and a mule.
While it remains politically unpopular, there’s been a growing intellectual movementin recent years to provide Black Americans reparations. The scholars William Darity Jr. and A. Kristin Mullen put the price tag of a reparations program to fully close the racial wealth gap at around ten to twelve trillion dollars. It’s a jaw-dropping amount. But one way of understanding it is as a kind of debt, a debt that America has spent centuries failing to pay off.