But those factors do not fully explain the stubborn chasm.
“The big factor is historical,” said Austin Nichols, an economist with the Urban Institute. “If you amass wealth in one group, it tends to stay there.”
For African Americans, slavery is the big historical influence, Nichols said. And many Hispanics are recent immigrants, whose families have not had multiple generations to amass wealth.
“If this report had been written 100 years ago, that would have been true about new arrivals from Europe,” he said. “The story with Hispanics may be different 50 years from now. Black Americans, through their different history, face a different disadvantage.”
The recession underscored the significance of education. College graduates had significantly lower unemployment rates than adults with no more than a high school degree.
“Your social class — where you came from, your education, family wealth, who you’re married to and what they do for a living — is much more important than race and ethnicity” as a factor in income, said Timothy Smeeding, who is a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and heads the Institute for Research on Poverty there.
“There are differences of race and ethnicity, and those were exacerbated by the recession. But what really determines your income has more to do with your education and how long you’ve been somewhere.”
The Sentier study found that the Washington metropolitan area, whose population has the nation’s highest percentage of college graduates, had the nation’s fourth-largest share of more than $8 trillion in annual income — behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but ahead of Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta and Boston.
The study counted income from a variety of sources, including wage and salary income, Social Security benefits, dividends, pensions, unemployment compensation and alimony. It did not count food stamps or one-time windfalls such as capital gains, inheritances and lottery winnings.