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Haitian, Jamaican or American ... If you’re black in Miami, odds are you’re struggling

Miami skyline.
Miami skyline. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

A new study sheds light on the yawning gap in wealth in the Miami area between white households and households of color.

Among non-white groups, it is Miami-area households identifying as black that continue to suffer most, according to the authors of the study, “The Color of Wealth in Miami.”

The wealth gap exists across racial background: African-American, Haitian-American, and all other types of black households, the study says.

“If skin complexion is a marker of social treatment, as I believe it to be, then we still have lots of structural barriers related to someone’s phenotype,” said study co-author Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and social policy at Ohio State University.

Or as the study’s authors state ominously: Despite Miami’s rise as a cosmopolitan city in the past decade or so, “The concentration of wealth that characterizes modern global cities does not necessarily trickle down to all its residents.”

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The study is part of a series chronicling the racial wealth gap in major U.S. metropolitan areas. Previous studies have looked at the gap in Boston, Los Angeles, and the Washington, D.C., area, among other cities. Hamilton said that the black-white wealth gap is most severe in Boston.

So what’s unique about Miami?

Thanks to its particular mix of ethnicities identifying as black, the authors are able to show how skin complexion is most correlated with economic insecurity.

Using new survey data, as well as U.S. Census Bureau data, covering a period between 2013 and 2015, the study’s authors calculated the median net worth for households of various ethnicities in the Miami metropolitan area, comprising Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

For white households, the median net worth was an estimated $107,000.

For Black-American households, the median net worth was $3,700.

For Black-Caribbean households, the median net worth was $12,000.

Meanwhile, households identifying as Cuban had a median net worth of $22,000.

“U.S. black descendants and black Caribbean descendants, primarily Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Tobagonians, and blacks with Latin or Hispanic heritage, are more economically similar than Latins of various ancestral origin who self-identify as white as opposed to black,” the authors write.

For Hamilton, the data show that the experience of being black in Miami is a uniquely difficult one, even accounting for different ethnic or ancestral origins.

“The key takeaway is that when it comes to things like business ownership, home ownership, and household income, the variation based on color is more pronounced than the variation based on ancestral background,” he said.

The authors findings suggest Hispanics seem to grasp the inherent advantage of identifying as white.

“In terms of identification, overwhelmingly, Latin Census respondents self-classify as either racially white or ‘other,’ while a small fraction chose a racially black identity,” the authors write. “Self-reported white Latin individuals attain higher economic outcomes, despite having only slightly higher educational attainment than their racially self-reported black counterparts.”

Indeed, education appeared to do little to close the wealth gap among Miami households of different ethnicities.

For white households with a bachelor’s degree or higher, median net worth was $301,000.

For Hispanic households with a bachelor’s degree or higher, median net worth was $87,500.

For black households with a bachelor’s degree or higher, median net worth was $32,000.

Hamilton says the study offers evidence that what he referred to as “multicultural neoliberalism,” which he said puts forward the belief that different groups’ obstacles or sufferings are equal, but that education can be sufficient to overcome those barriers, needs to be questioned.

“This offers strong context to dispel the myth .. .that we all face the same circumstances, and that if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we can get ahead.”

In reality, Hamilton and his co-authors find, the gaps are the result of policies, or the lack thereof, that have discriminated against black individuals.

“We must understand the scope of racial differences in resource transfers across generations, with an eye on both historical and present-day policies and practices that enable some groups to gain a relative position advantage over others,” the authors write.

They continue: “Policies are needed that provide opportunities for asset development; fair access to housing, credit, and financial services; opportunity for good-paying jobs; strengthening retirement incomes; promoting access to education without overburdening individuals with debt; and providing access to health care while helping minimize medical debt.”

The report is a joint publication of The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. The lead author was Alan A. Aja, an associate professor in the Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College.

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Rob Wile covers business, tech, and the economy in South Florida. He is a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He grew up in Chicago.


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