Talking Pictures


Pictures of Black America abound. Most of them tell about the wealth gap and other disparities between Blacks and whites, and sometimes — rarely — they tell about the wealth gap among Blacks themselves. How about the positivity gap between Blacks and whites?


There’s the distress picture that everyone knows: a community traumatized by a stubborn racial wealth gap and a host of attendant social ills. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement’s historic March on Washington, it’s the same old story when it comes to class, race and wealth, says the National Urban League. The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of Black households and Pew Research analysis indicates that when the housing market bubble burst in 2006 and the recession followed in late 2007 to mid-2009, it took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than whites. An Urban Institute study shows that Black families lost 31 percent of their wealth between 2007 and 2010, while white families lost 11 percent. Homeownership is a big deal in the Black-white wealth gap. “The single most significant reason for the racial wealth gap prior to the Great Recession was higher homeownership rates enjoyed by non-Hispanic white families, largely as a result of favorable access to mortgage credit,” says economic analyst James H. Carr, Carr Distinguished Scholar at The Opportunity Agenda and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. 


A second, less familiar picture shows the Black community giving on average 25 percent more of its income to charitable causes each year than whites. This picture recently came to light through research by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. And there’s the least known picture — the Black community as home to high net-worth individuals, those with more than $5 million in investable assets. Wealth and asset managers Northern Trust spoke to some of these high net-worth Blacks for its 2012 “Wealth in America Survey” and found a glaring positivity gap. Here, 63 percent of Blacks said they and their household were better off in the five years since the beginning of the Great Recession in the fall of 2007, against 50 percent for all individuals interviewed, and 18 percent of Blacks said they were worse off, against 23 percent overall. Overall, 18 percent of wealthy people said the country was better off in the five years since the beginning of the Great Recession and 65 percent said it was worse off. But among wealthy Blacks, 55 percent considered the nation better off and only 23 percent said it was worse off. Similarly, 80 percent of the high net-worth Blacks saw the country as being better off in the next five years, compared to 43 percent overall, with just 9 percent of Blacks saying it will be worse off, compared to 35 percent overall.   


Late last year, Wells Fargo & Co.’s Wealth, Brokerage & Retirement group also spoke to Blacks who have money to invest. Its findings published as “African-American Investor Outlook” also shows a positivity gap between Blacks and the rest of the country. Among highlights, 60 percent of Black investors were confident about their own financial future, against the national average of 52 percent, and 52 percent of Black investors said they were better off in 2012 than they were three years hence, against 51 percent overall.


Pictures do speak, but some of their stories are rarely heard.