The state of America’s widening wealth gap


Flickr user Tax Credits

The Census Bureau released updated data this week on the net worth of American households, drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. These totals reflect all assets including money in checking accounts, owned homes, rental properties, 401ks, stocks and vehicles, offset by liabilities like mortgages, student loans, and medical and credit card debt. Below, I've charted the distribution of net worth by income quintiles for several groups: non-Hispanic whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians, as well as households headed by workers with a high school degree or more.

The Census data suggest that the wealth gap in America has widened over the past decade, regardless of how you slice it. The gap between the bottom and top quintiles in America has widened, as has the gap between blacks and whites, and between workers with only a high school degree and those with much more. This implies that the returns to higher education in America are growing (in 2000, households headed by someone with a bachelor's degree were worth 2.4 times as much as those with only a high school diploma; by 2011 the ratio was 3.4). And racial inequality in wealth is growing, too (in 2000, white households had a net worth 10.6 times larger than blacks; by 2011 it was 17.5).

As of 2011, this is what wealth in America looks like. Toggle between the groups and you can compare them, by quintile. The most well-off whites, for example, are doing substantially better than the most well-off blacks. The differences in education are even more stark. Notably, the bottom quintile of every group has a negative net worth — in other words, those households are in debt. First, by race:

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.
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