Biden unveils measures to ‘narrow racial wealth gap’

The steps aim to stop housing discrimination and support minority-owned businesses on the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre.

People pray outside of the Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was largely destroyed when a white mob descended on the prosperous Black neighborhood in 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma [File: John Locher/AP]

The administration of United States President Joe Biden announced a series of steps that aim to “help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies”.

The White House announced the measures, which aim to crack down on housing discrimination and support minority-owned businesses, on the centennial of the Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921, in which a white mob killed as many as 300 Black people in the Greenwood neighbourhood, which was known as the “Black Wall Street”.

“The destruction wrought on the Greenwood neighbourhood and its families was followed by laws and policies that made recovery nearly impossible,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

The administration added that subsequent policies locked Black Tulsans out of homeownership and access to credit; that the construction of federal highways in Greenwood cut the Black population off from economic opportunity; and that chronic disinvestment “denied Black Wall Street a fair shot at rebuilding”.

“These are the stories of Greenwood, but they have echoes in countless Black communities across the country,” the White House said, hours before Biden was set to travel to Tulsa to commemorate the massacre.

The new measures include launching “a first-of-its-kind interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals, and conducting rulemaking to aggressively combat housing discrimination” and using the “federal government’s purchasing power” to increase government contracting with “disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent”.

The administration also highlighted a series of grants included in Biden’s American Jobs Plan, a $2.7 trillion package aimed at rebuilding the US economy and infrastructure that the administration has been working to build support for in Congress.

The grants in question would “create jobs and build wealth in communities of colour”, the White House said.

Observers say racial disparities in the US persist for generations, limiting opportunities for wealth creation for Black and Latino families and reducing their ability to pass on property to their children.

Data from the Survey of Consumer Finances show the median Black household had a net wealth of $24,000 in 2019, or nearly 90 percent less than the median white household.

Homeownership rates are also much lower in communities of colour, with just 49 percent of Latinos and 45 percent of Black Americans owning their own homes, compared with 74 percent of white Americans.

The homeownership rate for Black Americans has seen a greater decline than for white Americans since 2001, dropping 5 percent compared with the 1 percent drop for white Americans.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies