Race appears to trump ethnicity when it come to predicting wealth, according to a new report examining the economic disparities among Miami’s diverse population.
The report, released this week by Ohio State University, Duke University and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, compared the economic positions of nonimmigrant black people in the United States and those with ties to Puerto Rico, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America with white people and Latinos who identified as white or other on census forms.
Among the most provocative findings: Identifying as black or white was a bigger factor than ancestry or ethnicity in determining employment, income and homeownership, said Darrick Hamilton, an economist who co-authored the report and leads the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State.
Descendants of black Americans, Afro-Caribbeans — primarily Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Tobagonians — and black Latinos were more economically similar than Latinos of various ancestry who identified as white, the researchers found.
The median wealth for U.S. black households was $3,700, compared with $12,000 for black Caribbean households and $107,000 for white households, the study found.
Latinos who identified as white generally have higher household incomes and homeownership rates and lower unemployment rates than those of black Latinos, the study found.
More than 17 percent of black Colombians were unemployed, compared with just over 6 percent of white Colombians. Among Cubans, 11 percent of blacks were unemployed, compared with nearly 7 percent of whites.
The researchers combined their own survey data in Greater Miami with data from the U.S. Census Bureau between 2013 and 2015 to conduct their analysis.
The median household income for black Cubans was $22,900, compared with $38,000 for white Cubans. But that racial wealth gap narrows significantly for Colombians, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Hamilton said that could be because some Latinos of color may more readily identify as white.
Cubans and Colombians who identified as white also had higher rates of homeownership, 53 and 49 percent, respectively, than black Cubans and Colombians who had homeownership rates of 23 and 29 percent, the report said.
“It’s controversial, but important,” Hamilton said. “It dispels some of these myths about cultural efficacy and addresses the need to deal with social structures that still put a high reward on whiteness at the expense of blackness.”
Instead, black Caribbean and Latino communities encountered discrimination similar to that of African Americans. Miami’s tourist economy has long relied on poorly paid African American and Afro-Caribbean labor, the report noted. The violence of the Jim Crow era morphed into racist zoning laws and land expropriation through eminent domain, researchers wrote. In the 1960s, the government built an interstate through the economic heart of the black community in the Overtown neighborhood, seizing black properties and displacing tens of thousands of black Americans, Bahamians and other black residents.
Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy who was not involved with the study, said the report provides “yet another piece of evidence showing the enduring impact of racism in this country.”
Its findings are “consistent with the history of slavery, Jim Crow and other discriminatory policies which explicitly robbed black people in particular of wealth and economic self-sufficiency for generations,” Wilson said.
Researchers also found that most nonwhite groups did not have enough savings to withstand an unexpected hardship such as a hurricane or other life emergency. Black Americans in Miami had a median of $11 in savings. That figure is $200 for Puerto Ricans, $2,000 for Afro-Caribbeans and South Americans, and $3,200 for Cubans. White households had median savings of $10,750.
That is particularly alarming in Miami, where researchers said the impact of climate change exacerbates the wealth disparity.
The report noted that real estate speculators in Miami are increasingly interested in redeveloping black and Latino neighborhoods, which tend to be located on higher ground, as the region becomes more vulnerable to flooding as a result of climate change.
“A new wave of gentrification that America needs to be concerned about is climate gentrification,” Hamilton said. “That means a displacement of people from resilient neighborhoods to those that are more vulnerable. Once again, communities of color, as a result of their economic circumstance and limited political power, will bear the greatest blunt of climate change.”