The American Dream Is Imploding For Black Families Struggling With Racial Wealth Gap

Prince George's County, Maryland

The American Dream Is Imploding For Black Families Struggling With Racial Wealth Gap.

Prince George’s County, Maryland is unique for many reasons. Not only does the county have the highest income of any majority Black county, it has also become more upscale the higher the Black population has climbed. In the early 2000s as the housing bubble was still expanding, many Blacks were able to build wealth in a way that many of their elders had only dreamed of. The fairy-tale of middle class upward mobility and Black people achieving the American Dream as a community all came crashing down when the housing bubble burst. Making matters worse, Black residents in Prince George’s County have not enjoyed the same rebound in housing prices, and they have lost significantly more wealth than their white neighbours in surrounding suburbs. Perhaps most depressing is the fact that economists are predicting that the community will most likely not make a full recovery anytime soon.

The financial devastation that Black families in Prince George’s County and all over the country are facing is not always apparent in the physical appearance of communities and neighbourhoods; the slow motion crisis plays out in the private, painful decisions families are forced to grapple with when deciding how to deal with ballooning mortgage payments, stagnant, falling or non-existent wages, and saving for college and retirement. Forty year old Fred Bryant, who lives his wife and two daughters in Prince George’s County describes his vanished wealth as a gorilla on his back. Bryant and his wife both grew up in working class families but managed to earn college degrees and land jobs that allowed them to experience middle class life. Since the housing bubble burst, the Bryant's are now upside down in their home, owing around $80,000 more than it’s worth. There monthly house payment is also nearly double what it was when they first started paying their mortgage.

The Bryant's aren’t alone; since the 2008 recession, Blacks have seen two decades of wealth gains vanish. One of those people is Denise Watson, who purchased a townhouse in Prince George’s County in 2005 as a way to build some equity. That plan quickly faded with the recession. Regarding her predicament, Watson states, “I feel stuck, which hurts after you have worked so hard and done everything that society says you are supposed to do to grab your piece of the American Dream. ” A Washington Post analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances found that Blacks are now generally left with less than half the wealth they had prior to 2007, but whites only saw their wealth decline by 14 per cent during the same time period. This amounts to Black families having eight cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth white families have. Economics and urban policy professor Derrick Hamilton states, “There was never a period in American history where the wealth gap was not enormous, but after this most recent recession, the wealth gap went from dismal to even worse.”

When considering the racial wealth gap in a historical context, the economic playing field between Blacks and whites has never been level; many Blacks were freed from slavery with no money, and several pieces of legislation meant to guarantee workers adequate pay and make college possible excluded Blacks. Even as policy and legislation has sought to create a more level playing field, the racial wealth gap persists, not only because of the historical robbing of wealth from Blacks through slavery but also through the disproportionate way economic recessions and downturns impact what wealth Black families have been able to amass. According to the Pew Research Centre, the racial wealth gap in 2013 was at or near the highest level recorded in the 30 years since data has been recorded. While the proposed solutions for closing the racial wealth gap vary widely, it is important to consider that it will take multi-pronged, innovative solutions to resolve an issue that has been hundreds of years in the making. For many Blacks, the American Dream has remained an elusive enigma, and for those lucky enough to attain some measure of it, it has all too often turned into a waking nightmare. Unless it is okay for the world to believe that Blacks have been sold a pipe dream, the United States must do a better job ensuring that the economic upward mobility and stability pf the American Dream is equally afforded to all citizens, not just white citizens.

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