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According to a recent study, high-income white Americans overestimated the racial income gap more than other groups.

We’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to racial disparities in the United States.

Or have we?

Black families earn $57.30 for every $100 a white family earns, according to a Yale University study. But white people think black people make around $82 for every $100 — a 25 percent difference from reality.

“Despite some indications of racial progress in American society,” the study says, “racial economic inequality continues to be strikingly high. The primary aim of the present work was to discern how aware Americans actually are of current levels of racial economic inequality.”

The income and earnings gap in 2015 between white and black workers was roughly the same as in 1967. (Yeah, in the middle of the civil rights movement.) The Yale study showcases that high-income white Americans overestimated the racial income gap more than other groups: low-income white people, low-income black people, and high-income black people.

The misperception is drastic: for every $100 in wealth a white family has, they believe black families have $83. In reality, black families hold just $5.04 in wealth for every $100 a white family has.

The price of being poor

While some white Americans believe black people have more wealth than they actually do, there are real consequences that all Americans are facing for being poor. A major setback poor people face is the struggle of maintaining good health.

Major money problems are causing people to get sick. The more debt you have, the higher levels of stress you’ll face. Higher stress leads to gaining more weight and losing more sleep.

Naturally, when you pay off debt, your stress levels are lower and you’re in overall better health than someone who is stressed because of financial problems. Most people admit to being happier after their debt is paid off.

The definition of wealth is also different, depending on who you ask. Less than 50 percent of Americans say “wealth” is defined by having a lot of money. But the majority of people say wealth is living life through experiences and having loving relationships with family and friends.

But if you have to put a price on it, “wealth” is having $2.4 million, or 30 times the median net worth of U.S. households. While wealth has a relatively similar definition according to most people, it’s the perception of wealth that the Yale study is debunking.

“Given the magnitude and persistence of Black-White economic inequality in the United States, it is hard to believe that Americans are largely unaware of it,” the study says. “Overall, these findings suggest a profound misperception of and unfounded optimism regarding societal race-based economic equality—a misperception that is likely to have any number of important policy implications.”

The Yale study says that higher-income Americans believe there is more equality in income and wealth than there actually is. Social structures play a huge role in the perceptions of wealth, the study says. In every test in the study, both white and black Americans overestimated equality among both races.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


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