Race and Family Support

If you really want to understand how what seem to be relatively small privileges and precedents add up to a big difference in the opportunities available to white people and non-white people in this country, I strongly urge you to read a piece by former WaMo intern Mel Jones at Ten Miles Square about the intergenerational dynamics of family support.

Relying on a number of research findings, Jones documents the critical role that subsidies from family members play at key moments in the lives of white millennials–and how those subsidies not only don’t exist for many of their black and Hispanic peers, but are instead replaced by subsidies in the opposite direction, making asset-building impossible.

Even though blacks and Hispanic millennials are less likely to receive financial support from parents, their parents are most likely to expect their kids to help financially support them later on. According to the Clark poll, upwards of 80% of black parents and 70% of Hispanic parents expect to be supported. And most studies show that a primary cause in people of color being unable to save as adults is that they lend financial support to close family. This is important because when (not if) life emergencies happen, many millennials won’t have the reserve money to cover it.

A millennial who gets regular financial gifts and support from parents will either have the money to cover an emergency themselves, or (the more likely scenario) have a parent or grandparent cover it so there’s no damage to their credit. They won’t have to borrow from predatory lending institutions, move into unsafe neighborhoods to save on rent, or start from financial scratch each time.

So in small bits and pieces, the racial disparities emerge and then reinforce themselves, aggravated by discrimination in credit and housing opportunities. And the disparities are even sadder and more shocking at one of life’s most traumatic moments, the death of parents–which for many white folks means an inheritance, while for most minority folk it means funeral expenses to cover.

Seriously, read Jones’ piece and think about your own experiences. I was from a pretty modest background and was always told I’d have to get myself educated and onto the career ladder on my own. But I was able to live at home during college; got an infusion of parental cash when I was about to starve near the end of law school; and my father was there with the money for a down payment the first time I bought a house (a very common experience for young white people, as Jones notes). I never had to worry about supporting my parents or other family members, either. So for all my cracker pride at being self-sufficient compared to the really privileged people I knew in school and work, I really did have privileges well beyond the various “white skin privileges” associated with looking like the people running the country.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.