“Still Running Up the Down Escalator: How Narratives Shape our Understanding of Racial Wealth Inequality,” a new report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development and the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, makes a powerful case for dismantling the current understanding of the economic situation of Black Americans.

Notably, as the report makes clear, the median Black household ($24,100) holds about 12 cents for every dollar of wealth held by the median White family ($188,200) – a disparity that has remained largely unchanged since 1989. When considering mean wealth figures, the gap is more than five times as big.

“We focus all our policy efforts on pushing Black people to run up the down escalator faster, rather than focusing on the fact that they are forced to climb a down-escalator in the first place,” write authors Natasha Hicks, Fenaba Addo, Anne Price, and William Darity Jr.

Most notably, the report:

  • Estimates and explains the depths of racial wealth disparities in America, which arose via systematic exclusion of Black families from wealth-building opportunities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and the willingness of the U.S. government to ignore the 100+ violent White riots in this period that murdered Black people, destroyed their properties, and decimated their communities.
  • Highlights harmful narratives that have limited public understanding of which systems caused these disparities and what policies might advance equity. Among the insidious narratives it debunks are anti-blackness, personal responsibility, and bootstrapping.
  • Explores how these narratives prevent equity in five key areas: education, homeownership, entrepreneurship, income, and family structure. Specifically, Black individuals do not experience the same benefits of education or homeownership as their White peers, and they face significant, systemic hurdles in establishing businesses and finding jobs.
  • Identifies and outlines changes to address the causes of racial wealth inequality and to foster a “truly just and fair economy.”