The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report in February that reveals racial disparities in the 401(k) retirement accounts. It also reveals the continued widening of the racial wealth gap that was enhanced by the great recession.
National Bureau of Economic Research: The wealth gap has reached record highs. At the same time there has been substantial proliferation of 401(k) savings accounts as the dominant vehicle, and these accounts make up an increasing proportion of overall wealth.
“Stanford University’s Kai Yuan Kuan, Mark Cullen, and Sepideh Modrek looked through the anonymous retirement accounts of about 9,600 Alcoa workers between 2003 and 2010. . . and found that Black and Hispanic employees’ accounts were in rougher shape than those of their White co-workers,” says Quartz.
A graphic on page 22 of the 35 page document by the Bureau shows that Blacks and Hispanics had lower balances than their White counterparts.
Additionally, they were less likely to participate in the plans (pg. 19), but of those who did the percentage was higher for early withdraws from it or loans taken against it (pg. 23).
Furthermore, African-Americans and Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans were less likely to invest or place their 401(k) savings in stocks or bonds, which can have higher returns, but invested in lower returning ventures.
National Bureau of Economic Research: Together these differences substantially impact the level of 401(k) balances accumulated and therefore overall wealth accumulation.
The unfortunate reality that many families of color, in particular, African-Americans, face in terms of income and employment discrimination is well documented. The harsh reality that has befallen these communities is that the disparities and inequality does not end there.
This report reveals that workers of communities of color and White workers do not even save the same. The better way to phrase it would be to say that they do not have the opportunity to save the same. The great recession economic downturn that began in 2007 surely had an impact on this reality, but it further displays how in the United States there is an economic justice problem.
There is an income gap, an employment gap, and now a savings gap that threatens to hold African-Americans and other communities of color in economic bondage while their White co-workers enjoy an uptick in the economy and greater assurance of their stability once they retire. That is a consequence of these findings.
The findings further allude to the fact that African-Americans and workers of color will be working longer and not retiring when they would like to, or that when they retire they will still have to find some sort of employment to make ends meet. That is a pitiful commentary on the economic disparities faced in this country. The only question remains is what are African-Americans and other communities of color to do in the face of this crisis? What type of community response is needed, and how, if at all, can the government (local, state, federal) assist these communities in a continuous political/governmental environment that is hostile to these communities of Americans.