Explained (2018) s01e01 Episode Script

The Racial Wealth Gap

1 [narrator] Just over 150 years ago, this was money for almost half of America.
On multiple bills were people picking cotton.
Enslaved people.
These slaves didn't just represent wealth in America.
They were wealth.
By 1863, they were worth over $3 billion.
Since then, America has slowly, painfully, transformed as a country, breaking down racial barrier after racial barrier.
[Martin Luther King Jr.
] I am very optimistic about the future.
Frankly, I have seen certain changes in the United States that surprise me.
So on the basis of this, I think we may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years.
I would think in 25 years or less.
[narrator] Wealth is different.
Wealth is where past injustices breed present suffering.
I think the racial wealth gap speaks to the fact that we still have a long way to go to achieve ideals of equality in this country.
The racial wealth gap is a measure of the white family and the African-American family that's right smack-dab in the middle, the median.
[narrator] The median white household's wealth: their savings, assets, minus their debts, is $171,000.
The median black household's is $17,600.
And that gap is still growing and growing.
Why? [Martin Luther King Jr.
] We hold these truths to be self-evident We have the right to go to any school in America, but we can't pay the tuition.
I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
The American dream need not forever be deferred.
[Martin Luther King Jr.
] that all men are created equal.
[Malcom X] If they can't have their equal share in the house, they'll burn it down.
I picked the cotton and I built the railroads under someone else's whip for nothing.
For nothing.
[narrator] In January, 1865, the Civil War was ending.
Union general William Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton gathered a group of 20 black leaders and asked them what the black community needed to build lives in freedom.
Reverend Garrison Frazier, the leader of the group, answered simply.
"The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land.
" Four days after the meeting, Sherman issued Special Field Order No.
15.
It set aside hundreds of thousands of acres of land, saying, "Each family shall have a plot of not more than 40 acres of tillable ground.
" The day before his second inauguration, Lincoln signed a bill that made the plan official.
America was almost a very different country.
[upbeat music playing] But it didn't turn out that way.
Weeks later, Lincoln was dead.
His successor, Andrew Johnson, quickly reversed course.
Immediately once we say, "Okay, equal rights" then you have a white backlash that says, "What about our rights?" [narrator] By the end of that year, thousands of freed slaves who had received land were evicted.
In just a year after slavery, President Johnson complained about discrimination against whites.
Quote: "In favor of the negro.
" But slaves had been creating wealth for their owners for 246 years.
That wealth, whites got to keep.
And there's an amazing thing about wealth that people who have it know well: it grows, across generations.
Just ask Jay-Z.
[Jay-Z] I bought some artwork for one million Two years later that shit worth two million Few years later, that shit worth eight million "I can't wait to give this shit to my children.
" One thing it says is that wealth begets wealth.
Turn one million into eight, raise your hand if you wanna take that deal.
[narrator] It doesn't take a risky, Picasso-sized bet to see wealth grow dramatically.
It just takes time.
If you live in a stable country and can invest long-term, values generally go up.
That's why you need to know about compounding interest.
Imagine you took $100 and invested it in 1863.
The average annual inflation-adjusted return in the US stock market has been around 7%.
The next year, it's worth a bit more and a bit more, and a bit more.
Today, that $100 would be worth more than $3.
5 million.
To this day, African-Americans make a lot less money than whites.
They're far more likely to be unemployed, and studies show employers still discriminate.
But even if we managed to close those gaps right now, centuries of inequality have already compounded, most powerfully through land and housing.
Usually, in this century, any wealth that's captured is through property.
[narrator] For the American middle class, home equity accounts for around two-thirds of wealth.
So if you're a white American, you're likely to have parents or grandparents with a story like this.
[woman] My parents bought a house probably now 50 years ago, paid $14,000 for it then, and it is worth now probably about $600,000 to $700,000.
[Cory Booker] Most people don't understand the power of housing, of where you live, of what opportunities exist in that community.
[narrator] The government played a huge role in making that happen.
During the Great Depression, almost half of all city homeowners were in default.
[male announcer] The men are sitting in the parks all day long, out of work, muttering to themselves.
[narrator] Franklin Delano Roosevelt took action with the New Deal.
by providing for the easing of the burden of debt.
So the New Deal unleashes mortgage credit to the population.
[narrator] The American dream and owning a home became synonymous.
But the new Federal Housing Administration wouldn't insure mortgages in areas it decided were too risky.
And the way that risk is calculated is by race.
A black family moving in was seen as a threat to housing prices.
[interviewer] Do you think a Negro family moving here will affect the community as a whole? I think that the property values will immediately go down if they're allowed to move in here in any number.
[narrator] So when the FHA drew maps of where they wouldn't insure loans, the neighborhoods with more black families were colored in red.
[Cory Booker] Redlining is not a figurative metaphor.
You would literally see maps drawn where entire neighborhoods were redlined off.
[narrator] The effects of racism became a justification for more racism.
[man] If two-thirds of America's middle-class wealth is in the form of home ownership, that opportunity to own a home has now just been excluded.
[narrator] Federally enforced segregation affected every part of life: the jobs you could access, where your children went to school, how safe they were, and whether your home increased in value.
[all] Keep your eyes on the prize [narrator] It wasn't until 1968 that housing discrimination was outlawed.
[Lyndon B.
Johnson] Fair housing for all human beings is now a part of the American way of life.
[narrator] But that didn't mean housing discrimination ended.
Consider what it took for Cory Booker's family to get their house in 1969.
My parents began looking for homes, but finding just odd things happening, where real estate agents, if they saw them beforehand, they would only show them homes in African-American communities.
If it was a house in a white neighborhood, my parents would be told, "This house is already sold.
" [narrator] Booker's parents set up a sting operation with a civil rights group.
The next time they were turned away, a white couple arrived and made an offer on their behalf.
[Cory Booker] The bid was accepted, and on the day of the closing, the white couple did not show up.
My father did, and the lawyer, and the real estate agent was so angry, stands up, and punches my dad's lawyer.
Literally they're fighting, scrambling, and there was a dog in the corner, and he sicced the dog on my father.
So my father's now trying to fight off a big dog, a window was smashed, but eventually things settled, and the real estate agent was desperate, and started begging my father: "You don't wanna move here, your people are not here.
" He was so afraid that one black family would move in, and somehow it would destroy his business and drive down real estate rates.
[narrator] Cory Booker and his parents ended up getting that house and that house helped build his future.
It built wealth incredibly.
My father rolled into another house in the same town, an even bigger house, going from poverty to being very comfortably in the middle class in the United States of America, and really thriving.
[narrator] That wasn't the typical story.
100 years of discrimination since slavery left a huge home ownership gap.
By the '90s, banks and politicians realized what that meant an opportunity.
Discrimination is patently immoral, but it is now increasingly being seen as unprofitable.
[narrator] In the '90s, the government made a push to open up the mortgage market.
to help families who have historically been excluded from home ownership.
[narrator] Black home ownership started ticking up.
It looked like the wealth gap might start closing at long last.
So you've got people who are hungry for these loans, but what they want is the regular loans that everyone else got from 1934 until 1980.
[narrator] Instead, African-Americans were twice as likely as white Americans to get subprime loans, a loan that starts out cheap, and gets much more expensive, for borrowers with lower credit.
But one in five black borrowers with good credit still ended up with a subprime loan.
I was a loan officer at Wells Fargo in their subprime division.
[narrator] So Beth heard the conference calls where Wells Fargo planned to target black churches.
[Jacobson] They were termed "wealth building seminars" and that was about purchasing homes.
The minister of these churches thought this was a great idea, something to help the parishioners in the community.
[narrator] The bank would give the church a donation for each parishioner who ended up getting a mortgage.
[Jacobson] So the people in the congregation didn't realize the loan officer they were talking to was only going to sell them a subprime loan, even if they had 800 credit scores.
[man Four and a half, six.
[female reporter] Stock market breakdown.
The worst financial crisis since World War II.
fueled by mortgage lending that wasn't sound or responsible.
[female reporter] led by borrowers of high-risk subprime loans.
Black communities lost 53% of their wealth.
It's hurtful to see a lot of those folks who were at the highest levels of the world of finance who made fabulously irresponsible decisions, that those people have been made whole, those institutions have been made whole, but for communities like mine that are still struggling, that there wasn't some kind of vision or plan to try to help those folks get back on their feet.
[narrator] Many of the biggest mortgage lenders in the country settled discrimination lawsuits.
Although it denied targeting black borrowers, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $175 million.
Unlike in FDR's New Deal, the government's $440 billion program to address the housing crisis mostly didn't go to home owners.
The assistance, and a single viral clip, triggered a backlash.
How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills, raise their hand.
- [crowd boos] - How about we all - President Obama, are you listening? - You wanna We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July.
All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm gonna start organizing.
[crowd chanting] USA! USA! USA! If we were to go to an equity scenario where whites and blacks had the same amount of educational achievement, it would lower the racial wealth gap somewhat minimally.
[narrator] And maybe not even that much.
[Thomas Shapiro] The Fed Reserve Bank of St.
Louis did a study that came up with a finding that white college graduates, over a couple of decades, their wealth increased dramatically, as one might expect.
Black college graduates, over the same period of time, their wealth actually decreased.
[narrator] The reason isn't that graduates made very different amounts of money.
It was how they spent it.
[Thomas Shaprio] It's much more likely to be the case that an African-American college graduate is the most successful in their family network and therefore relatives ask them for help, and they give it.
That doesn't mean that white college graduates are less charitable or less giving, or anything like that.
It just means that they're like others in their network.
[narrator] African-Americans were wealth for 246 years.
For a hundred more years, and discrimination continues today.
The wealth gap has grown so large over so many years, it would take something truly radical to close it.
How do you close this gap, this huge gap in wealth, - between whites and blacks? - You don't.
Reparations.
How much are we talking here? We don't actually know, but I will take a check on behalf of myself.
[Anderson Cooper] Is anyone on this stage for reparations for slavery for African Americans? Are you? I am.
The Bible says, "We shall be and must be repairers of the breech" and a breech has occurred and we have to acknowledge that.
[Cory Booker] This does have a generational cost to it.
We can't just hope that we are going to thrive as a nation when there are still so many wounds that have not been addressed.
This is something that started with slavery, but it's never diminished over time, and that's because government policy keeps perpetuating the circumstances for the wealth gap.
It's the Billie Holiday song, right? "Them that's got shall have, them that's not shall lose.
" It is truly self-perpetuating.
[Cory Booker] "Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror.
The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but should ask for nothing more.
On the surface, this appears reasonable but it is not realistic, For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up to his fellow runner.
" God bless the child  Who's got its own  Who's got his own