(Bloomberg News) Blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. suffered bigger losses in wealth relative to whites during the economic slump that ended in June 2009, pushing the gap among the groups to a record, the Pew Research Center found.
The value of the median white households' net worth, or the difference between assets and debts, was 19 times greater than that of black families at the end of 2009, the most since comparable data began in 1984, according to a report by the non- partisan research group. It was 15 times that of Hispanics, also the biggest in at least 25 years.
"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," researchers Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry and Paul Taylor wrote. "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."
Geography played a role in determining the extent of the damage done by the bust in real estate, because a "disproportionate share" of Hispanics live in the states showing the biggest declines in property values, including California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, the report said.
From 2005 to 2009 inflation-adjusted wealth dropped by 66 percent for the median Hispanic household and by 53 percent for blacks, the report said. White families saw a 16 percent decrease during the same period.
Home equity accounts for a smaller share of net worth for whites, "and that served to lessen the impact of the housing bust" for the group, according to the report.
Additionally, a "much higher share" of whites than blacks or Hispanics have stocks in their portfolios, mitigating the blow from the housing slump. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 21 percent in the last six months of 2009.
"Given that a much higher share of whites than blacks or Hispanics own stocks -- as well as mutual funds and 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) -- the stock market rebound since 2009 is likely to have benefited white households more than minority households," Kochhar, Fry and Taylor wrote.
Nonetheless, Pew's research showed the decline among whites in absolute terms outstripped that of the other two groups. Because the wealth base for white households is so much larger than for blacks or Hispanics, the proportional decline in wealth was less for whites.