During the Great Recession many Americans lost a lot of wealth, through lost wages from lost jobs and lost equity in homes as bankruptcies and mortgage defaults rocked the national economy. The Great Recession is a major factor that contributed to the housing crisis that Matthew Desmond looks at in his book Evicted. Additionally, it greatly contributed to the racial disparities in homelessness and poverty that Desmond explores and documents in the book.
Regarding the impact of the Great Recession to black and white families, Desmond writes, “between 2007 and 2010, the average white family experienced an 11 percent reduction in wealth, but the average black family lost 31 percent of its wealth. The average Hispanic family lost 44 percent.” He states that black and brown neighborhoods were targeted by banks pushing subprime mortgages, the vehicle that failed and ultimately crashed the entire banking and financial industry. Predatory mortgage and loan practices impacted many families, as the statistics in Desmond’s quote shows, but impacted black and brown families much more than white families.
The loss of wealth from the Great Recession will have a long tail. Wealth is different from income and can have long-term consequences for individuals and their family members for several generations. Wealth is the total value of the assets and property that an individual owns. Homes, cars, fancy paintings, family wedding rings, and cash in the bank all factor into a person’s wealth. Throughout American history, public policy and social norms have reinforced structures that allowed white Americans to generate wealth at the expense or exclusion of minorities. The result is a massive wealth gap today, even as minority populations have closed income gaps. Minorities may be on par with whites in terms of wages and salaries, but they are still far behind whites when it comes to total wealth and asset valuations.
Familial wealth allows individuals and families to weather storms like the Great Recession. Whites didn’t lose as much wealth as blacks and Hispanics because their families had more wealth that could be tapped into in order to keep up mortgage payments during an unemployment spell to avoid losing a home. Whites likely had better financial terms on their mortgages and loans because they had more wealth and could have wealthy family members co-sign mortgages or loans to improve the terms. The end result was that wealth helped protect wealth during the Great Recession, while minority populations who were already less wealthy than whites took a harder hit.