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Most whites don’t know about wealth gap or underestimate its size, survey finds

Banner Staff

Most white Americans have limited knowledge of the country’s wealth gap along racial lines or underestimate its size, a recent national survey has found.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has calculated the average white family in the country has accumulated wealth six times that of the average Black family. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2015 estimated an even bigger gap locally, with the city’s white households having a median net worth of nearly $250,000 versus just $8 for Black households. The Fed’s study is being updated and expanded to include other cities and collect better data.

The online survey of 800 Black and white Americans found nearly a third of white respondents don’t think a racial wealth gap exists, while another 68% think it is smaller than it actually is. The survey launched in late September for Amalgamated Bank, which has operations across Massachusetts.

Black Americans reported they were much more aware of the gap although only about one in five knew the ratio was six to one.

Nearly all Black respondents — 93% — said closing the gap should be a top priority, while just under half of whites thought so, and 22% said it should not be a priority.

Almost three-quarters of Blacks said the racial wealth gap is relevant to their own lives. Only about three in 10 whites said it was relevant to theirs.

The survey also detected a disagreement along racial lines about the causes of the wealth gap.

Slightly more than half, 55%, of whites said the financial disparity was largely the result of individual choices and actions. The other 45% cited structural inequities, a fairly close split.

Black opinion was lopsided in the other direction, with 80% saying structural inequities were more to blame and 20% pointing to the choices and actions of individuals.

Amalgamated Bank said in a news release that the survey was a preliminary step as the bank develops a multi-pronged approach to sustaining an effort to close the gap. More research is planned.

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