Monday, May 13, 2019

Review: Toxic Inequality (2017)

Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future (2017), by Thomas Shapiro, is a professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and the Director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy Brandeis University. He is the leading figure on racial inequality and public policy.

From the book cover:
Since the Great Recession, most Americans' standard of living has stagnated or declined. Economic inequality is at historic highs. But inequality's impact differs by race; African Americans' net wealth is just a tenth that of white Americans, and over recent decades, white families have accumulated wealth at three times the rate of black families. In our increasingly diverse nation, sociologist Thomas M. Shapiro argues, wealth disparities must be understood in tandem with racial inequities--a dangerous combination he terms "toxic inequality."

In Toxic Inequality, Shapiro reveals how these forces combine to trap families in place. Following nearly two hundred families of different races and income levels over a period of twelve years, Shapiro's research vividly documents the recession's toll on parents and children, the ways families use assets to manage crises and create opportunities, and the real reasons some families build wealth while others struggle in poverty. The structure of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and tax code-much more than individual choices-push some forward and hold others back. A lack of assets, far more common in families of color, can often ruin parents' careful plans for themselves and their children.

i an a fan of Shapiro's work, which has generated much discussion on the widening racial wealth gap and economic inequality in the U.S. He uses a sociological lens to examine how years of homeownership, household income, and unemployment created racial disparities in wealth between white families and black families. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of race, it has not stopped the practice of redlining. Black neighborhoods tend to have lower home equities than white neighborhoods which has huge implications on intergenerational wealth. Black families also tend to live in neighborhoods with higher proportion of blacks (or adjacent to working-class neighborhoods) than white families. For the past fifty years, black families have been playing catch-up to white families but neoliberal policies and the Great Recession eliminated much of black wealth. Overall, I highly recommend the book because it is easy to understand for the general audience to see that black families are NOT on an equal playing field with white families when it comes to wealth accumulation.

I would even further argue that this data supports why affirmative action is still necessary in elite college admissions. With fewer assets, black families are less likely to afford test preparation programs that can boost their child's scores on the SAT (which is poor predictor of college success) and must rely on student loans to finance their children's college educations. As the recent college admissions cheating scandal revealed, these racial inequities create an unfair advantage to already privileged students who do not have to financially struggle to gain admission into elite colleges and universities.

If you have not read Thomas Shapiro's previous books, I highly recommend his other phenomenal books, Black Wealth/White Wealth (2006) and The Hidden Cost of Being African Americans (2005).

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