Report highlights economic disparities between races in Baltimore

A new report examines the economic disparities between races in Baltimore.

A report released Monday paints in stark numbers what many already know: There is a significant gap in wealth between whites and other races in Baltimore.

Median household income for African-Americans in Baltimore is nearly half that of whites, $33,801 compared to $62,751, according to the report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit based in Washington. More than two-thirds of black residents of Baltimore don't have enough liquid savings to survive for three months in case of job loss, compared to less than a third of whites. And the unemployment rate for black households in Baltimore is more than three times the rate for white households.

"The most overall important finding is how deeply segregated by race and how much race is an indicator of economic position in Baltimore," said Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, director of group's Racial Wealth Divide Initiative and a co-author of the report. "I think looking at racial economic inequality gives a more quantifiable way of looking at racial issues."

The study's authors don't make recommendations on specific policies, but CFED plans on working with six Baltimore nonprofits over the next year to address economic disparities. They include the Center for Urban Families, the Druid Heights Community Development Corp. and the Latino Economic Development Center.

The report also found that a third of households of color in Baltimore have zero net worth. About 42 percent of black households own homes, compared to 60 percent of white households. And just 13 percent of black adults have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 51 percent of white adults.

Marceline White, director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, said she hopes the Maryland General Assembly addresses some issues of economic racial disparity in its 90-day session, including some not addressed in the report, such as higher auto insurance rates in predominantly black neighborhoods.

"Right now we're at a point where the Maryland General Assembly has an opportunity to act on policies that can undo this racial impact and create a racial justice approach to our economic security and economic inclusion," White said. "I hope people will read this report and make decisions to make sure economic growth is inclusive for everyone in Baltimore city."

Asante-Muhammad said the nonprofit has published similar reports that looked at disparities in Miami and New Orleans. A report about Chicago is in the works. Asante-Muhammad said he saw interesting differences in the findings between Baltimore and Chicago.

Baltimore has a higher median income for black households than in Chicago, where it is about $4,000 lower annually, Asante-Muhammad said.

"Baltimore is a city that is located in a very high income state, so it's different than Chicago," Asante-Muhammad said. "In Baltimore people are making less than they make throughout the state. In Chicago they're making more than they make throughout the state."

Daraius Irani, vice president of Innovation and Applied Research at Towson University, called the report's findings "shameful" and "tragic." He said it was similar to national research he's done that showed, for instance, that black households in the United States have 1/10th of the wealth of white households.

"By every metric African-American households are worse off than white households, and that holds true in the city," he said. "It's a national tragedy... It reinforces the notion that there's still a lot to be done."

The overall findings of the report weren't surprising to economist Richard Clinch, director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore. He said the report was well founded but didn't take into account how Baltimore has improved over the last five to 10 years.

"Baltimore city has reversed 30 to 40 years of decline in the last 5 to 10 years," Clinch said. "The population is growing, income is growing, the trajectory is improving."

While many newcomers to the city are young and white, the city's overall fortunes should help lift the minority population as well, he said.

"Are the gains from the city's renaissance evenly shared? The answer is yes and no," Clinch said. "When the city is in better financial situations, it can address the more fundamental reasons of this disparity."

cwells@baltsun.com

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