Daily Camera (Boulder)

Reparation­s are expensive — but not repairing the harm costs more

- By Dedrick Asante-muhammad Dedrick Asante-muhammad is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote this for Insidesour­ces. com.

The racial wealth divide between Black and white Americans is much bigger — and more stubborn — than many of us realize.

The median African-american household has just 6% of the wealth of the median white household, the Institute for Policy Studies found in 2020. That’s actually a lower percentage than four decades prior.

The racial wealth divide is vast — and it may be growing.

This is a result of public policy. Not just slavery but also segregatio­n, mass incarcerat­ion, housing and lending discrimina­tion, and other injustices that persist. Closing this gap will also take public policy — including some form of cash payments to help Black families build their wealth, otherwise known as reparation­s.

One particular headlinegr­abbing plan comes from San Francisco, where the median Black income is just $31,000, compared to $116,000 for whites — an even greater divide than the country at large. San Francisco’s nonbinding Draft Reparation­s Plan, released in December, calls for “$5 million for each eligible African-american resident” in reparation­s.

The primary critique of this plan has been the expense. The Hoover Institutio­n, a conservati­ve think tank, estimates that $5 million for every eligible Black adult in the city would amount to $175 billion, significan­tly more than the city budget of $14 billion yearly.

Cash payments can and should play an essential role in economic repair for Africaname­ricans. But I don’t think one large lump-sum payment is ideal for wealth building. In my policy work, I’ve proposed $20,000 a year for 20 years for all African-americans that meet the requiremen­ts for reparation­s.

A substantia­l sum of funds over 20 years is much more likely to be used for sustained economic advancemen­t than a one-time mass payment. In San Francisco, this would still be a significan­t expenditur­e — about $900 million a year — but much more affordable than a $175 billion expenditur­e.

Still, cash is just one piece of the puzzle.

What gets lost in the discussion about numbers is the more holistic approach developed in San Francisco that can serve as a national model for addressing the Black-white racial wealth divide. The plan recognizes the depth and breadth of the divide and seriously approaches the various asset categories that build — or destroy — wealth.

In its action section, it calls for the city to close the schoolto-prison pipeline; use landuse controls to reduce the number of unhealthy establishm­ents in Black communitie­s; offer tax relief and incentives to Blackowned businesses; establish a community land trust governed by Black residents; and generate local political support to bring back funding for affirmativ­e action programs, among many other constructi­ve steps.

Of course, for local reparation­s to be most effective, there needs to be a national reparation­s program to build upon.

What’s more, many federal policies — like passing a robust living wage, developing a Medicare for All program, allowing the Postal Service to offer lowcost banking services, and more — would benefit Americans of every race while reducing the racial wealth gap.

Repairing this damage is expensive. But not making the necessary investment­s to bridge this divide costs even more.

Aside from the headlinegr­abbing figures, the holistic approach of San Francisco’s draft plan makes it a model for the type of federal interventi­on necessary to address racial, economic inequality. The Black-white economic divide keeps about one in five Africaname­ricans in poverty and leads to the continuing mass incarcerat­ion of African-americans, among many other injustices.

Without deep and widespread interventi­on, our centuries-old racial wealth divide will continue for centuries. It costs the nation and its Africaname­rican citizens too much not to invest in reparation­s!

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