Wealth Inequalities

The Regional and Community Outreach department at the Boston Fed has a longstanding interest in reducing racial-ethnic disparities and advancing more equitable economic outcomes as part of its dual mandate to promote stable prices and maximize employment. We have identified racial wealth gaps as a crucial arena for making long-lasting changes. Wealth not only provides a buffer during times of economic distress, but it is also a means of achieving economic security and building further economic resources. However, in the United States, wealth divides are significant and persistent, particularly between certain racial and ethnic groups.

In 2015, we published The Color of Wealth, a research study of the economic situation of those residing in Greater Boston. This research showcased dramatic differences in wealth between non-Hispanic white and Black households and created a platform that jumpstarted an urgent and sustained response from civic actors. A commitment to research and a comprehensive understanding of the economic situation of families across the region now spurs the consideration of additional opportunities for documenting wealth disparities and identifying strategies that are attentive to the root causes that influence these patterns.

In order to deepen our understanding of wealth inequality in our region, we are collaborating with community partners including the Boston Foundation, the Barr Foundation, Eastern Bank Foundation, and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. In 2022, we launched a multiyear research initiative to explore wealth disparities in Greater Boston and across Massachusetts, including differences by rural, suburban, or urban residence. The findings will ultimately inform partners and the broader community as practices and policies are developed to promote equity in wealth, a key foundation for greater economic opportunity. The current goals of this project are as follows:

  • Generate current, reliable baseline estimates of family wealth across metro Boston and the Commonwealth, as well as across a set of so-called Gateway Cities
  • Illustrate wealth differences within and between racial-ethnic groups, geographies, etc.
  • Understand some of the sources of wealth disparities
  • Develop a data set that can be used to model the impacts of changes in policy or practice
  • Establish a methodology to potentially reproduce the study at regular intervals

Alongside our research, we are building a suite of strategies for action. Among these, in collaboration with the John T. Gorman Foundation, we published a paper that develops a framework grounded in the extensive scholarly literature on wealth inequality and centered on the structures that drive it. This framework offers three strategic imperatives:

  • Expand the parameters of ownership
  • Improve access to appreciable assets
  • Protect family wealth

It also provides examples to illustrate the key mechanisms at work. A brief animation explaining the significance of wealth for family economic well-being accompanies this report.