Report: Austin’s economic growth is leaving black and Latino communities behind

Angela Glover-Blackwell, Kazique Prince and Jeremie Greer take part in a panel discussion at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin on Feb. 28.

Angela Glover-Blackwell, Kazique Prince and Jeremie Greer take part in a panel discussion at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin on Feb. 28.

New research from a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit shows Austin’s growing economy has also led to a widening of the wealth gap between white residents and people of color in Austin.

The report, released Feb. 28 by nonprofit organization Prosperity Now in conjunction with local partners Austin Community Foundation and JPMorgan Chase, looked at changes in Austin over time among white, black, Latino and Asian residents, analyzing indicators of wealth such as income, property values and “liquid asset poverty”—a measure of whether families can cover three months of expenses if they experience a sudden financial change, such as a job loss or medical emergency.

According to the report, black and Latino residents of Austin experienced only modest gains in their median income between 1980 and 2016. The city’s overall median income jumped from $48,625 to $60,939 in those 36 years. However, the black median income rose from $36,506 to $40,004, and the Latino median income rose from $42,245 to $44,239.

Property values tell the same story, according to the report. In 2016, the median property value for Asian homeowners in Austin was $340,000, and it was $320,000 for white homeowners. For both black and Latino homeowners, the median property value was $170,000.

Jeremie Greer, vice president of policy and research at Prosperity Now, joined a panel at Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin on Feb. 28 to discuss the findings along with Kazique Prince, policy adviser to Mayor Steve Adler, and Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and president of national research institute PolicyLink.

“This racial wealth divide is not a naturally occurring event. It’s not something that was created by a higher power; it’s not in our DNA. It’s man-made,” Greer said in a discussion moderated by Yvette Ruiz, vice president of corporate responsibility at JPMorgan Chase.

The report states black and Latino wealth dropped in Austin between 2000-16. In 2000, the black median income was $46,029, and the Latino median income was $51,331. In 2016, those median income levels had sunk to $40,004 and $44,239, respectively.

Economic prosperity across all demographics dropped in the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, but according to the report, white and Asian median incomes have recovered, while black and Latino residents are still feeling the effects.

“A lot of black wealth vanished in the Great Recession, and we have not recovered still,” Prince said.

The report is intended to provide a local perspective on issues of income inequality to cities across the country to spur conversation, rather than offering solutions on the local level, Greer said.

One area in which the city is addressing the issue, Prince said, is the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequalities. That task force released a report in 2017 and is continuing talks now.