Visualizing The Racial Wealth Gap in America
The U.S. has an enormous racial wealth gap. White workers across all education levels, on average, take home more money than African Americans with similar experience and education levels. Our three newest visualizations reveal the extent of the problem across the country by focusing on the differences in median income between white and African Americans.
- Wyoming is the only state in the country where the median income for African American workers is higher than that of white workers ($89.9K vs. $62.3K). This is very likely due to how sparsely populated the state is.
- Washington, DC and Wisconsin are the two places with the worst median income gaps (66.88% and 51.25%, respectively).
- There’s a noticeable cluster of states with median income gaps over 40% across both the Rust Belt and the Deep South, indicating that racial inequality is an issue everywhere in America, not just in the South.
- The place with the lowest gap between African American and white workers is in the Northwest, where median incomes for white people are still more than 25% higher than their African American counterparts.
We found the numbers behind our map and visualization from the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. We took median income figures by ethnicity for 2018, the latest year for which complete numbers were available. Median income includes anybody earning money 16 years old and older, calculated on the basis of a standard distribution. See this report for a full list of definitions and detailed methodology. And finally, we plotted figures from the Federal Reserve about wealth inequality over time between white and African American households.
Top 10 Worst Places for African American and White Median Income Inequality
1. Washington, DC: 66.88% ($45.2K vs. $136.4K)
2. Wisconsin: 51.25% ($30.8K vs. $63.2K)
3. Minnesota: 49.54% ($36.8K vs. $73K)
4. Louisiana: 49.04% ($30.2K vs. $59.2K)
5. Iowa: 47.74% ($32K vs. $61.2K)
6. Mississippi: 44.95% ($30.6K vs. $55.6K)
7. Ohio: 44.74% ($33.6K vs. $60.8K)
8. Illinois: 43.81% ($39.7K vs. $70.7K)
9. Michigan: 43.49% ($34.5K vs. $61.1K)
10. South Carolina: 43.39% ($34.6K vs. $61.1K)
A few things stand out about our chart and map right away. For starters, Wyoming is the only state where the median income for African American workers is higher than for white workers ($89.9K vs. $62.3K). A close look at the underlying data reveals that Wyoming is the least populous state in the country, with less than 600,000 people according to most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. And in fact only 1.29% of that population is African American, again according to the Census. In short, Wyoming is an outlier.
The real story is both devastating and informative of just how large the racial gap is when it comes to earning an income. The median income for white workers is larger, and in some cases significantly larger, than the median income for African Americans in every state except Wyoming. Although Washington, DC has the single largest measurable median wage gap between whites and blacks at 66.88%, Wisconsin has the single biggest of any state in the country at 51.25% or ($63.2K for whites vs. $30.8K for African Americans).
A comparison of wealth between white and black households shows how these trends have continued to get worse over time. For example, in 1990 black households controlled $1.04T in total assets compared to $22.13T for white households. The wealth gap has only continued to grow in the last couple decades, declining only slightly after the Great Recession before returning to growth. Today, the gap stands at $6.07T for black and $107.46T for white households.
One of the most striking insights from our map is how income differences cluster in both the South and the North. Several states in the Rust Belt have eye-popping differences between white and black median incomes, including Ohio (44.74%), Illinois (43.81%) and Michigan (43.49%). The same figure in Minnesota is the third highest in the country behind only Washington, DC and Wisconsin at 49.54%. The situation across the Deep South is strikingly similar, with states like Louisiana (49.04%), Mississippi (44.95%) and South Carolina (43.39%) topping the charts of inequality.
There really isn’t a “best place” for African American's median income numbers. Wyoming represents something of an anomaly, as mentioned earlier. Instead, the region with the lowest median income gap between white and African Americans is the Northwest. Washington (25.96%), Oregon (28.34%) and Idaho (27.2%) have some of the lowest gaps in the country. That being said, a wage difference of over 25% is still an incredible gap.
Why do you think there continues to be such a significant gap in income? Let us know in the comments.