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These 3 Visualizations are Illustrating Racial Wealth Gap in the U.S.

We celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King jr. on the 3rd Monday of January each year. As a key leader, he was instrumental in the civil rights movement breaking down the segregationist barriers. Yet, more than half a century later, an enormous economic chasm separates the white and African American communities.
Our visualizations display income inequality through several lenses to help us understand the scope and breadth of the issue we all face.

Racial income inequality by state

  • In every state (except New Hampshire), the gap between the white and black communities’ median income is at least 12%
  • North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and Washington D.C. report gaps of greater than 50%
  • Outside of the New Hampshire outlier, the black community in Hawaii shows the highest median income in 2019 at $70,048
  • Only 15 states report median income for the black community over $50,000 a year compared to every state for whites with the exception of West Virginia and Puerto Rico

Data can and does change from year to year, which is why it’s important to look for trends over time. Our first set of visualizations looks at U.S. Census Bureau data as broken down by ethnicity. Income data includes anyone 16 years old and older earning income, calculated on the basis of a standard distribution. You can find a full report of definitions and methodology here. The last visualization pulls from Federal Reserve data looking at total assets held by racial group.

Racial income inequality by state

Top 10 Worst Places for African American and White Median Income Inequality

State Median Household Income - White Median Household Income - Black Gap (%)
Washington, DC $149.7K $48.7K 67.51%
Wyoming $66.8K $22.3K 66.59%
Utah $77.8K $38K 51.11%
North Dakota $68.4K $34.1K 50.17%
Wisconsin $61.5K $35.2K 47.50%
Louisiana $61.5K $32.7K 46.79%
Illinois $74.7K $39.8K 46.72%
Minnesota $77.6K $41.6K 46.23%
Mississippi $57.2K $31.1K 45.68%
Ohio $62.6K $35.K 44.12%

Comparing our data from 2019 to 2018, we note that Washington D.C. remains top of the list, with the gap inching up from 66.88% to 67.51%. Utah, Wyoming, and North Dakota made this top 10 this year, taking the spots of Iowa, Michigan, and South Carolina (which all remained in the top 15). Interestingly, Wyoming showed the median income for African Americans higher than whites in 2018, yet shows one of the worst gaps in 2019. Part of this stems from the low percentage of the population African Americans make up of the state. That led to a margin of error for the Black community of +/- $22,620 on a median income of $33,816.

What we can see is that states like Wisconsin improved the gap while both communities saw median income increase year over year. Most states saw the gap widen as median income increased for white communities at a faster pace.

Wealth by race in america

What isn’t immediately apparent from the visual is the improvement in ownership of assets by the African American demographic compared to whites. During most of the ‘90s, African American ownership averaged 4.6% of assets owned by whites. That improved to 5.0% during the next decade and 5.5% in the most recent ten year period. In fact, when you compare Q1 of 1990 to the most recent reading, assets owned by the black community increased 566% compared to white household ownership of 510%. Still, if you compare the first reading for the white households in 1990, which came in at $21.6 trillion, the latest reading for the black community, $5.66 trillion, the disparity is 26.2% even separated by three decades.

These measures illustrate an improvement in economic inequality that is mediocre at best. Yet, such a complex must be looked at from multiple perspectives. Do these visualizations adequately portray the situation or are there other measures that demonstrate the point better?

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