The Racial Wealth Gap in Los Angeles Has Widened Since the 1965 Watts Riots

A new study by scholars at Duke University, the University of California Los Angeles, and the New School, has found that the wealth gap has been severely overlooked as a major factor in overall inequality since the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. The riots prompted U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson to create the Kerner Commission. Additionally, the State of California established the McCone Commission to look into the causes of the riot. Both of these reports addressed racial inequality in transportation, education, policing, and housing, but did not state the racial wealth gap as a contributor to the riots.

Co-author of the study and professor at Duke University, William Darity Jr. stated that “wealth deprivation seems to have played an important role in producing urban uprisings in Black and Latino communities.” Home ownership rates in South-Central L.A. have actually worsened over the last 50 years, dropping from 40.5 percent in 1960 to 31.8 percent in 2015.

Since the housing crisis of the mid 2000s, real estate investments and gentrification of southern Los Angeles has made it less possible for low-income and minority families to afford housing. According to the study “for every dollar of wealth held by the average White household, Black and Mexican households have 1 cent.”

Dr. Darity holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The full study, “Fifty Years After the Kerner Commission Report: Place, Housing, and Racial Wealth Inequality in Los Angeles,” was published in the Russell Sage Foundation’s Journal of the Social Sciences. It may be read here.

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