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The Racial Wealth Gap and Access to Opportunity Neighborhoods


Many forms of economic opportunity are accessed through one’s neighborhood, particularly in the form of job referral networks and access to employment for adults and in schools, safety, and future job referral networks for children. It’s concerning, then, that even when they have comparable incomes, Black and white households live in neighborhoods with different socioeconomic conditions. Recent research from the Cleveland Fed finds that differences in neighborhoods remain between Black and white households with the same levels of both income and of wealth. This finding suggests that neighborhood differences are not driven solely by racial income or wealth gaps, but instead likely reflect ongoing racial hostility, discrimination in the housing market, or preferences by Black households for the strength of social networks in predominately Black neighborhoods. We discuss potential explanations and the implications for access to economic opportunity.
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Roundtable Discussion

Key takeaway: Some factors beyond economics, such as continued discrimination in the housing market and racial hostility, appear to remain obstacles to Black Americans’ fully accessing opportunity neighborhoods.

Participant Bios

  • Ingrid Gould Ellen is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at the New York University (NYU) Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and a faculty director at the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. She teaches courses in microeconomics, urban economics, and urban policy research. Professor Ellen’s research interests center on housing and urban policy. She is author of Sharing America’s Neighborhoods: The Prospects for Stable Racial Integration (Harvard University Press, 2000) and more recently editor of The Dream Revisited: Contemporary Debates About Housing, Segregation and Opportunity (Columbia University Press, 2019). She has written numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters related to housing policy, community development, and school and neighborhood segregation. Professor Ellen has held visiting positions at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Urban Institute, and the Brookings Institution. She holds a BA in applied mathematics, an MPP, and a PhD in public policy from Harvard University.

  • Ann Lott is the executive director of the Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) in Dallas, Texas. She has worked for ICP for more than 12 years and brings an extensive background of hands-on knowledge in the affordable- and low-income housing industry. Prior to joining ICP, she was the president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Housing Authority, where she was responsible for the oversight involved in planning, directing, and coordinating rental housing programs for approximately 23,000 low-income families. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at San Diego State University.

  • Dionissi Aliprantis is the director of the Program on Economic Inclusion and a senior research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. His research focuses on human capital formation, racial inequality, and neighborhood effects. He is a codirector of Greater Than Math, which runs university programs using math to build community and foster creativity among middle and high school students. He earned a BS in mathematics and a BA in economics and Spanish from Indiana University. He earned a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

The views expressed in this Cleveland Fed Conversation on Economic Inclusion are those of the participants and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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