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Nine Charts about Wealth Inequality in America

Wealth inequality is higher in the United States than in almost any other developed country and has risen for much of the past 60 years. Racial wealth inequities have persisted for generations, reflecting the long-standing effects of racist policies, not individual intentions or deficits. In a nation that professes that those who work hard and play by the rules should be rewarded with social and economic upward mobility, these persistent disparities are a stark reminder that, as a society, we have not achieved this goal.

These charts tell the story of wealth inequality in the United States. The first three show wealth disparities over time across race and age. The remainder demonstrate how gaps in earnings, homeownership rates, retirement savings, emergency savings, benefits from tax subsidies, and intergenerational transfers contribute to wealth inequities. We also identify evidence-based solutions that policymakers can implement to reduce systemic inequities and build wealth for all Americans.


Wealth is increasing but so is inequality.

In the past 60 years, America witnessed a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest families, increasing wealth inequality. In 1963, the wealthiest families had 36 times the wealth of families in the middle of the wealth distribution. By 2022, they had 71 times the wealth of families in the middle.

Between 1963 and 2022,

  • families near the bottom of the wealth distribution (those at the 10th percentile) went from having $23 in debt to $450 in wealth,
  • those in the middle (50th percentile) nearly quadrupled their wealth (from $50,598 to $192,700),
  • those near the top (at the 90th percentile) saw their wealth increase more than sixfold (from $294,573 to $1.9 million), and
  • the wealthiest families—those wealthier than 99 percent of all families—saw their wealth increase more than sevenfold (from $1.8 million to $13.6 million).

As a ratio, this gap decreased somewhat between 2016 and 2022, when the wealthiest families’ wealth dropped from 107 times greater than that of families in the middle to 71 times greater.

Though the ratio remained relatively high during this period, it decreased the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially because of stimulus checks. Between 2019 and 2022, the wealthiest families’ wealth dropped from 91 to 71 times middle-class families’ wealth. The only other time that wealth inequality had decreased since 1963 was between 1989 and 1995, when the wealthiest families’ wealth decreased from 49 to 42 times that of middle-class families.


Wealth gaps by race and ethnicity are large.

Over the past four decades, the difference in wealth held by white, Black, and Hispanic families has grown. In 1983, the average wealth of white families was about $320,000 higher than the average wealth of Black families and Hispanic families. By 2022, white families’ average wealth ($1.4 million) was more than $1 million higher than that of Black families ($211,596) and Hispanic families ($227,544). Put another way, white families had six times the average wealth of Black families and Hispanic families.

In 2022, the Survey of Consumer Finances disaggregated data for Asian families for the first time. Asian families’ average wealth was $1.8 million—1.3 times the average wealth of white families. However, more disaggregated local analyses point to large differences in wealth among Asian Americans.

The differences in wealth accumulation by race are the result of structural racism. Structural racism refers to the historic and current policies, programs, and institutional practices that facilitate wealth accumulation by white families while creating barriers to wealth building for or stripping wealth from families of color.


The wealth gap between Black and white families widens with age.

On average, white families accumulate more wealth over their lives than Black or Hispanic families in the same age group, widening the wealth gap at older ages. Consider those born between 1943 and 1951. When they were roughly in their 30s in 1983, the average wealth gap between white and Black families was $181,677, with white families having three times as much wealth as Black families. By 2022, when they were in their 70s, that gap surpassed $1.4 million, and the average white family had more than four times the wealth of the average Black family.


Differences in lifetime earnings widen wealth gaps.

Money saved from earnings is a source of wealth building for many workers, but earnings differ by race and gender. The average white man between ages 58 and 62 in 2022 earned $2.9 million over his career, while the average Black man earned $1.8 million and the average Hispanic man earned $1.7 million. Women earn less overall but gaps remain: the average white woman earned $1.7 million over her career, while the average Black woman earned $1.3 million and the average Hispanic woman earned $883,000.

Educational attainment is not enough to overcome these differences: even among people who have a bachelor’s degree, all women of color earn less on average than white women, and all men of color earn less on average than white men.

Labor market inequities, including employment discrimination that results in occupational crowding in lower-paying roles—and uneven pay across identical roles (PDF)—contribute significantly to earnings disparities.


Policies that provide sustained, high-quality employment throughout a person’s life, support educational and training opportunities, and combat wage discrimination could help close earnings gaps. At the federal level, standardizing pay data collection and implementing proactive audits could help detect and combat payment discrimination, and a federal job guarantee could ensure anyone who wants a job can access one. At the state and local levels, working to ensure wages can sustain families; leveraging workforce investments to improve job quality, such as paid sick time and paid family and medical leave; and offering sector-based skills training for in-demand jobs could also better support wealth building.

Research shows that even at higher income levels racial wealth gaps remain. People of color often have additional familial financial responsibilities and fewer inheritances, so having a higher income may not be enough to accumulate wealth at rates similar to those of white families. Baby bonds (or “child trusts”) and reparations for Black American descendants of slavery could help close these gaps.


Exclusionary homeownership policies have benefited white households at the expense of households of color, particularly Black households.

Homeownership is the main way people build wealth in the United States. Yet in 2018, the Black-white homeownership gap reached 30.5 percentage points, its highest level in 50 years. Black homeownership rates declined the most following the 2008 housing market crisis and only started to recover in 2019, just before the pandemic hit. Though 2022 estimates suggest homeownership rates among Black, Hispanic, and Asian families are increasing, Black Americans remain the only racial group with a homeownership rate below 50 percent.

Racial disparities in homeownership persist today because of the stubborn legacy of racist housing policies, such as redlining and racial covenants. In addition, racial differences in the three Cs that determine mortgage access—credit, collateral, and capacity—add to the disparities that discrimination created, though the metrics don’t explicitly include race. Moreover, real estate agent steering, industrial zoning, and appraisal bias, which are all rooted in racist practices, leave the values of Black-owned homes lagging those of white-owned homes.


Closing gaps in homeownership rates will require expanding mortgage credit access, increasing the supply of affordable homes, equalizing the costs and benefits of homeownership, and helping people remain in their homes.


Because of differential access and earnings, Black and Hispanic families have less retirement savings than white families.

Retirement savings provide stability and security for families as workers age out of the workforce. However, disparities in retirement savings have increased fivefold over the past three decades. In 1989, white families had about $50,000 more in average retirement savings than Black families and about $35,000 more than Hispanic families. In 2022, white families had about $260,000 more in average retirement savings than both Black and Hispanic families and about $20,000 more than Asian families.

Structural barriers, including occupational crowding, have created inequities in earnings and access to and participation in workplace retirement savings plans. Among families with access to retirement plans, those with lower incomes contribute smaller portions of their incomes and are more likely to withdraw money early to cover financial emergencies than families with higher incomes. Families without meaningful retirement savings are more likely to experience poverty and to depend on Social Security or safety net programs as their sole source of retirement income.


To eliminate disparities in retirement savings, policymakers could develop government-backed universal retirement accounts (such as OregonSaves), enhance job quality, expand access to payroll deduction workplace retirement savings programs, and encourage employers to offer retirement plans with features that boost participation, such as automatic enrollment. Tax subsidies could also be oriented more toward workers with average or lower earnings, such as through the retirement Saver’s Match (PDF).

Embedding emergency savings accounts into retirement accounts, as introduced in the Secure Act 2.0 (PDF), could be another option. Creating a distinction between emergency savings and retirement funds will offer participants clarity: one account serves immediate needs, while the other is earmarked for long-term retirement planning. This approach empowers employees to navigate unexpected financial crises without compromising their retirement security by resorting to emergency withdrawals.


Black and Hispanic families are less likely than white families to have emergency savings.

How much savings is adequate to withstand economic shocks depends on many factors, but one month of income can be sufficient for most families enduring an unemployment spell or unexpected expense—and can even prevent financial hardship in the long term. Yet only about half of households had this amount of liquid savings in 2022 (51 percent), which is the highest rate ever measured in the Survey of Consumer Finances. More than half of white households (57 percent) and more than one-third of Black households and Hispanic households (38 and 35 percent, respectively) had this level of emergency savings, compared with nearly three-quarters of Asian households (72 percent). These findings suggest the vast majority of Black and Hispanic households could face hardship because of common financial emergencies. Families with unpaid credit card debt may be especially vulnerable, given credit card debt constrains household budgets, even for those with higher incomes.

These disparities are the result of exclusionary and discriminatory policies, such as redlining in the financial industry and means testing in public benefits programs, that have historically penalized and discouraged people of color and lower-income households from building savings.


Policymakers can remove barriers and expand access to opportunities to build liquid savings. Raising or eliminating asset limits in public benefits programs, as California recently initiated with its Medi-Cal program, is one approach.

Families could also benefit from policies and programs that help them save for everyday emergencies and protect their finances from economy-wide shocks. Matched savings programs, where a nonprofit entity, the government, or an employer rewards initial and regular deposits of liquid savings, have been shown to increase savings and reduce hardship. Guaranteed income programs provide predictable funds to help families meet basic needs and weather unexpected events without depleting their savings or going into debt. In addition, automatic enrollment in emergency savings accounts, which recent federal legislation permits, nearly doubles the likelihood that people will save. Finally, enhancing the country’s automatic stabilizers, such as expanded refundable tax credits and enhanced unemployment benefits, could better protect families during economic downturns.


Federal tax policies fail to help families with low incomes build wealth.

The federal government spends more than $300 billion on housing and retirement tax subsidies to support asset building, but families don’t benefit from them equally. More than 80 percent of these subsidies go to taxpayers in the top 40 percent of the income distribution, while the bottom 20 percent receive less than half of 1 percent of subsidies. Black and Hispanic families, who have lower average incomes, receive much less of these subsidies than white families.

Many of the safety net programs that families with low incomes participate in, such as food and cash assistance, focus on income and keeping families afloat, but they would benefit from complementary wealth-building programs. Unfortunately, some existing programs discourage saving. For instance, many families won’t qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits if they have $3,000 in assets.


To help families with low incomes accumulate wealth, policymakers could consider making current tax deductions more progressive, including by limiting the mortgage interest tax deduction and using the revenues to provide a credit for first-time homebuyers. They could also consider policies that permit and incentivize families to save while they benefit from income-based safety net programs, as the bipartisan Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Savings Penalty Elimination Act would allow. Federal policymakers could also promote retirement savings through a Saver’s Match and automatic enrollment (with opt-out options) in various types of retirement accounts.


White families are more likely to receive an inheritance than families of color.

In 2022, white families were nearly four times more likely to receive an inheritance than Black families and about five times more likely than Hispanic families. Though these disparities have fluctuated in size somewhat, they’ve largely persisted since 1989. Researchers estimate that intergenerational transfers explain 12 to 16 percent of the racial wealth gap.

Intergenerational wealth transfers vary by race because of racial disparities in wealth and earnings. One study showed that the shares of Black and white families who intend to leave a sizeable estate are similar, but Black families are less likely to be homeowners or to have the necessary large amounts of wealth and income to do so.


Facilitating intergenerational transfers, including through wills and legal property transfers, is essential to narrowing wealth disparities. State and local governments as well as nonprofits and philanthropies could support wealth building among people of color by offering estate-planning assistance, particularly geared toward low-income communities.

Nonprofits can look to Invest STL’s pilot program for promising strategies. The program aims to help Black residents build wealth by offering estate-planning support, a financial planner, and funds for investment and immediate debt mitigation. Local leaders can also help residents navigate the legal process to resolve land ownership through legal education and heirs’ property resolution services. In the South and central Appalachia, Black families often hand land down to younger generations without legal documentation proving ownership. Some estimate that these transfers, called heirs’ property, make up more than a third of Southern Black-owned land and are worth more than $28 billion. Families with heirs’ property may not be able to secure a mortgage or home improvement loan but are responsible for taxes and other liabilities and can have their property taken away through court-ordered sales.

Promising federal policies to narrow racial wealth gaps

Wealth inequality in the United States is a complex and persistent challenge that requires bold policy solutions. The inequality is vast because of policy choices, and it can be reduced through policy choices, too.

The solutions above show that policymakers at all levels have a role to play in eliminating racial and other wealth disparities. However, the following federal policies could have the greatest impact, particularly if implemented together:

By addressing what’s driving economic inequality, these strategies could ensure all people have a fair shot at building wealth.

About the data

In this feature, wealth (also referred to as net worth) is total assets minus total liabilities. Assets are the sum of financial assets (such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and 401ks or IRAs) and nonfinancial assets (such as homes and real estate, businesses, and vehicles). Liabilities include both unsecured debt (such as credit card balances) and secured debt (such as mortgages and vehicle loans). Wealth includes only private command over resources: we do not include Social Security wealth or try to quantify future streams of Medicare, for example.

The majority of the data for this feature come from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), which is sponsored by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. The SCF is often considered the gold standard for studying wealth in the United States. It comprehensively measures many assets and debts, including less-captured items such as the value of certain kinds of pensions and life insurance on the asset side, and loans secured against retirement accounts and life insurance policies on the liabilities side.

The SCF asks respondents to self-identify their race and ethnicity. Families are classified into one of four groups based on the respondent’s selections (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and other). For consistency with the survey, we refer to non-Hispanic white and Black families as “white” and “Black,” respectively, and Hispanic or Latino families as “Hispanic.” The 2022 SCF also separates Asian people from the “other” group. They make up about 30 percent of that group. The remaining families in the group identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, another race, and more than one race, with the last subgroup making up the largest share of the remaining families. The SCF cannot disaggregate the “other” group further because of small sample sizes.

Chart 4 uses the terms men and women to describe gender, though the majority of the source data for DYNASIM were collected using male/female labeling. The authors are using terms associated with gender because gender, as a social construct, is what shapes a person’s experiences in society.

The data underlying this feature have some limitations, namely our incomplete understanding of Asian families’, Native families’, and rural families’ experiences building wealth. Additionally, we did not assess some wealth-building activities in this feature, including small-business ownership and stock market participation, because of the relatively small portions of Black and Hispanic wealth they represent. However, it is important to note that small business ownership grew for Black and Hispanic families from 2019 to 2022, as did stock market participation, particularly for Black families.

Project credits

This feature was funded by the Capital One Foundation, as part of Urban’s Financial Well-Being Data Hub, a research initiative that delivers evidence-based solutions to enhance equity and improve financial well-being. The Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided additional prior support. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. More information on our funding principles is available here. Read our terms of service here.

We are grateful to Signe-Mary McKernan, Caroline Ratcliffe, C. Eugene Steuerle, Caleb Quakenbush, Serena Lei, Kilolo Kijakazi, Emma Kalish, Fiona Blackshaw, Ben Chartoff, and Tim Meko for their work on previous versions of this feature and Margaret Simms, Rekha Balu, and C. Eugene Steuerle for their advice and review on this version of the feature.

View the project on Github.