Family dynamics and the disappearing America

How they got here. While the country’s economic recovery has helped both whites and minorities nationwide, more often than not, financial success for one group has, for the other, left them behind.

For whites, the Home and Land Monitor, a University of Pennsylvania-based analysis of the nation’s housing trends, has found, wealth has been spread among a more diverse group, with the top 7 percent of families getting wealthier at a faster rate, and a faster pace of inequality. For blacks, what’s broken their window of wealth is being pushed further away from the space in which they can make money.

Indeed, the racial wealth gap is widening. African-Americans with $50,000 in net worth are now richer than Whites with the same income. They are gaining on Whites in wealth only after a period of loss, while Hispanics are well above.

There is a growing trend for white families to be increasingly in suburbs or small towns, and that is a very good thing. But that trend is being pushed by the rich out to their suburban communities and markets, pushing out the poor–and into the crowded and costly cities.

“You’re going to end up with a Chicago or Los Angeles,” said Richard Shaw, author of the U.S. Surplus Economy and Economic Dynamics of Incorporation. “That’s going to have a lot to do with white household wealth.”

Shaw used to live in a Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone–and find it sparsely populated. To pass the time in his spare time, he walked the streets.

“You see homeless people on the street. You see people sleeping in cardboard boxes. You can walk down any street in Brooklyn and see somebody sleeping on a park bench,” he said. “Now look at an upscale neighborhood like Park Slope. In Park Slope, people would literally work, work, work, and lose the family. They don’t have time to settle down. They go to Wall Street.”

It’s not even about poor neighborhoods becoming predominately white or poor neighborhoods becoming predominately black. What’s happening to blacks is happening with cities all over the country.

Some argue there are many more urban poor than in the past, but they point to the phenomenon that happened in the 1980s–people losing their homes to foreclosures and leaving. That created higher prices for those left behind.

In 1977, when The Blade first began to write about family dynamics in its local news pages, it wrote about a local woman living in a one-bedroom apartment, making less than $500 a month. Her son, a repairman, was not making enough to make ends meet either. Today, that family’s assets are more than one million dollars in the bank, while their living costs have dropped from the 1970s by 80 percent.

On the flip side, Shaw found that there were more black families moving out of the black neighborhoods they were growing up in and into suburbs and other towns. But in those areas, the suburban whites are getting richer.

Between 1997 and 2005, the Brookings Institution found, the income of blacks in the suburbs grew by 69 percent, but the income of whites in the suburbs grew by 132 percent. White suburbanites in Wilmington, Del., earned on average $95,000 in 2005. The same statistic for blacks in southern or rural Delaware County was $23,000. Those who tried to sell their homes and move north were often told they should stay put.

The bigger price a family pays for those suburban dollars is a lifestyle they previously could have had in the city.

“To be frank, I think they’ve had some decent years,” Shaw said. “But I’m afraid a lot of those years, they’ve paid a lot for that.”

Case in point: a Nashville condo last year offered to rent a large white family, living just outside of Nashville, for more than $12,000 a month. They got away, but the couple lost the condo to foreclosure.

With the prices of lower-end cities increasing like they are, and those middle-class dollars generally losing purchasing power, renting a space now, as they did in the 1970s, is even less affordable.

And, particularly, the suburban white money has been pushed farther away from the city and its poorer neighborhoods.

“The old days of occupying neighborhoods at the level of an overt racism are gone,” Ed Clapp said.

He is executive director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Clapp notes, however, that federal investigations have recently found that many communities are trying to create self-policing policies that act in ways to undermine opportunities to serve low-income residents.

“There’s been a tendency to use demagogu

Leave a Comment