Report looks at who’s wealthy in Austin – and who’s not

Racial Wealth Divide Austin

A new report suggests that there’s a racial divide between those who have wealth in Austin and those who don’t, and researchers believe that divide is the direct result of historical and systemic racism.

The report released this week, “The Racial Wealth Divide in Austin”, defines wealth in five ways: income, home ownership, home value, net worth, and “liquid asset poverty”, which measures whether a household has enough of a financial cushion to cover basic living expenses for three months if they experience a financial emergency, like losing their job. In income, liquid asset poverty, and property values, African-American and Latino residents fare worse than White residents.

For example, 76 percent of Austin’s white population has a financial cushion compared to 42 percent of Latinos and 43 percent of African-Americans. There’s also a wide gap in income levels. Asian and White residents have a median household income of more than $72,000 while that number is just $44,000 for Latinos and $40,000 for African-Americans. The difference in home ownerships isn’t as great, but the value of the homes is. Asian and White homes have an average value of more than $320,000 while Latino and African-American homes have an average value of $170,000.

Information for the report was based on the most recently available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The findings prove the point, actually, that folks have not had equal access to opportunity,” said Yvette Ruiz, of JPMorgan Chase. Despite Austin’s thriving economy, she said, “there’s still massive inequality in wealth.” JPMorgan Chase has funded the study in other cities, she says, and the results in Austin trend with what they see in other parts of the country.

Jeremie Greer of Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that produced the report, says the results tie back to the same source across the country. “The racial wealth gap is an intentional outcome of policies that systematically oppressed black, brown, and Asian people,” said Greer. “It didn’t happen by accident so the solutions are not going to happen by accident.”

The data will support efforts in the nonprofit community as well as with the City of Austin to address this disparity. The next step, said Megan Longley, of the Austin Community Foundation, “is to dig into this data and activate it into community action.” One of the most important points of the report is how a person’s wealth is defined as more important than their income, she says. “When we talk about economic security, we also have to talk about wealth, because the second you lose that income, you’re more susceptible to poverty,” she said. “It think the shift is to think about those really systemic problems that got us here.”

PHOTO: Yvette Ruiz of JPMorgan Chase, Kazique Prince of the Austin Mayor's office and Jeremie Greer of Prosperity Now discuss the findings of the report at Huston-Tillotson College. 

NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on March 3, 2019.

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