A Race/Class Analysis of the Wealth Distribution

Blog post by Luc Schuster, Peter Ciurczak
January 31, 2024

Boston Indicators   (Boston)

Greater Boston (and the nation) has a large and persistent racial wealth gap. This is now well known. Wealth gaps persist as the legacy and ongoing product of society’s greatest injustices, and Boston Indicators has created the Racial Wealth Equity Resource Center as one research-based contribution to advancing solutions.  

Focusing just on race, however, risks flattening our understanding of wealth divides, implying that most people of color are low-wealth and that most white people are high-wealth. In relative terms, Black and Latino Americans really are far more likely to be low-wealth. But it’s simultaneously true that most low-wealth families are white.

These two facts can seem in tension, but taking a step back, it does make sense. Many white (and Asian and Native American) families genuinely struggle with economic insecurity. And while the United States has grown more diverse in recent years, white people remain by far the largest racial group. 

In this new research brief, A race/class analysis of the wealth distribution, we analyze new data from the 2022 Survey of Consumer Finances to generate a more nuanced understanding of how race and class intersect when analyzing the wealth distribution. Key findings include: 

  • The richest American families are overwhelmingly white (and, of their respective populations, they are overwhelmingly white and Asian).
  • The poorest families are quite multiracial, with white families being the single largest low-wealth racial group. 
  • Losing sight of the many Americans of all races who are economically insecure has perpetuated racialized perceptions of who is poor in America and depressed popular support for social welfare programs.