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Recession Study Finds Hispanics Hit the Hardest

This is how the New York Times characterized the Pew Research Center Report issued this week. Here are some key passages from the Report:

The Pew Research analysis finds that, in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009 took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.

As a result of these declines, the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009; the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth; and the typical white household had $113,149.

Moreover, about a third of black (35%) and Hispanic (31%) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15% of white households. In 2005, the comparable shares had been 29% for blacks, 23% for Hispanics and 11% for whites.

Hispanics and blacks are the nation’s two largest minority groups, making up 16% and 12% of the U.S. population respectively.

These findings are based on the Pew Research Center’s analysis of data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), an economic questionnaire distributed periodically to tens of thousands of households by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is considered the most comprehensive source of data about household wealth in the United States by race and ethnicity. The two most recent administrations of SIPP that focused on household wealth were in 2005 and 2009. Data from the 2009 survey were only recently made available to researchers.1

Plummeting house values were the principal cause of the recent erosion in household wealth among all groups, with Hispanics hit hardest by the meltdown in the housing market.

From 2005 to 2009, the median level of home equity held by Hispanic homeowners declined by half—from $99,983 to $49,145—while the homeownership rate among Hispanics was also falling, from 51% to 47%. A geographic analysis suggests the reason: A disproportionate share of Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the vanguard of the housing real estate market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s but that have since been among the states experiencing the steepest declines in housing values.

Hispanics: The net worth of Hispanic households decreased from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,325 in 2009. The percentage drop—66%—was the largest among all groups. Hispanics derived nearly two-thirds of their net worth in 2005 from home equity and are more likely to reside in areas where the housing meltdown was concentrated. Thus, the housing downturn had a deep impact on them. Their net worth also diminished because of a 42% rise in median levels of debt they carried in the form of unsecured liabilities (credit card debt, education loans, etc.).

Blacks: The net worth of black households fell from $12,124 in 2005 to $5,677 in 2009, a decline of 53%. Like Hispanics, black households drew a large share (59%) of their net worth from home equity in 2005. Thus, the housing downturn had a strong impact on their net worth. Blacks also took on more unsecured debt during the economic downturn, with the median level rising by 27%.

Whites: The drop in the wealth of white households was modest in comparison, falling 16% from $134,992 in 2005 to $113,149 in 2009. White households were also affected by the housing crisis. But home equity accounts for relatively less of their total net worth (44% in 2005), and that served to lessen the impact of the housing bust. Median levels of unsecured debt among whites rose by 32%.

Asians: In 2005 median Asian household wealth had been greater than the median for white households, but by 2009 Asians lost their place at the top of the wealth hierarchy. Their net worth fell from $168,103 in 2005 to $78,066 in 2009, a drop of 54%. Like Hispanics, they are geographically concentrated in places such as California that were hit hard by the housing market meltdown. The arrival of new Asian immigrants since 2004 also contributed significantly to the estimated decline in the overall wealth of this racial group. Absent the immigrants who arrived during this period, the median wealth of Asian households is estimated to have dropped 31% from 2005 to 2009. Asians account for about 5% of the U.S. population.

No Assets: About a quarter of all Hispanic (24%) and black (24%) households in 2009 had no assets other than a vehicle, compared with just 6% of white households. These percentages are little changed from 2005.

Medians and Means: Just as the gap in median household wealth among racial and ethnic groups rose from 2005 to 2009, so too did the gap in mean household wealth. However, the mean differences are not as dramatic as the median differences. (A median is the midpoint that separates the upper half from the lower half of a given group; a mean is an average, and, in this case, the average is driven upward by households with high net worth). In 2005, mean white household wealth was 2.3 times that of Hispanics and 3 times that of blacks. By 2009, it was 3.7 times that of both Hispanics and blacks.

Wealth Disparities within Racial and Ethnic Groups: During the period under study, wealth disparities increased not only between racial and ethnic groups, they also rose within each group. Even though the wealthiest 10% of households within each group suffered a loss in wealth from 2005 to 2009, their share of their group’s overall wealth rose during this period. The increase was the greatest among Hispanics, with the top 10% boosting their share of all Hispanic household wealth from 56% in 2005 to 72% in 2009. Among whites, the share of wealth owned by the top 10% rose from 46% in 2005 to 51% in 2009. These trends indicate that those in the top 10% of the wealth ladder were relatively less impacted by the economic downturn than those in the remaining 90%.

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