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04/29/2013

Why the wealthy-poor gap keeps on growing in the U.S.

The American dream continues to be a struggle divided along racial lines.

The wealth-inequality gap is growing, shows a new study, released Monday by the Washington, D.C. based-Urban Institute, a non-profit think tank.

Middle-income African and Latin Americans have seen little progress in their economic status compared to their white American counterparts, the institute found after studying the U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances from 1983 to 2010.

In fact, white families averaged six times the wealth of black and Hispanic households, or, $632,000 (U.S.) versus $98,000 and $110,00 respectively, research showed.

The institute measured wealth by examining assets such as the value of a house, bank accounts and retirement savings, minus mortgages, debts, credit card balances and student loans.

The difference between who owns what is stark, according to the report, “Less than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation.”

For instance, home ownership overwhelmingly escapes black and Hispanic Americans – in 2010, fewer than half of black and Hispanic families owned their own homes but three-quarters of white families did, the institute noted.

And, income gaps continue to persist, their research found.

According to data from 2010, the average household income for black and Hispanics was about $46,000, while for white families it was $89,000.

Perhaps not surprisingly, without home ownership and years of earning bigger salaries, when blacks and Hispanics age, the wealth inequality gap grows even wider. To make matters worse, the inequality is passed down generations, as parents don’t often have much in savings to give their children when they pass on.

“Wealth isn't just money in the bank, it's insurance against tough times, tuition to get a better education and a better job, savings to retire on, and a springboard into the middle class. In short, wealth translates into opportunity,” research authors Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, Eugene Steuerle, and Sisi Zhang said in their report.

Policies that could help bridge the wealth divide are largely absent and instead focused on the basics, such as providing enough food to eat, instead of tools that focus on how to save money.

For a broader take on wealth inequality in America, check out this video on the Occupy.com:

 

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

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