Help Us Learn How to Close the Racial Wealth Gap

Jul 28, 2022, 11:00 AM, Posted by

It’s past time to close the racial wealth gap, which undermines health in families and communities affected by structural racism.

Illustration of Wealth Gap

Editor’s note: This funding opportunity is now closed.

Can your family withstand a difficult diagnosis, a missed paycheck, or a significant rent increase? For many families and communities, those financial shocks are impossible to weather and gravely impact health and wellbeing. A survey conducted this year found that two-third of Americans have put off care they or a family member need because of cost.

This is the result of the racial wealth gap, which refers to how hundreds of years of structural racism have deprived Black and Indigenous families and other communities of color of assets and resources that accumulate and transfer from one generation to the next. Today, the racial wealth gap is a chasm; previous research shows that, for each dollar of wealth held by White families, Indigenous families have about 8 cents, Black families have about 13 cents, and Latino families about 19 cents.

Our nation’s policies have limited wealth and opportunity, especially for Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. From the appropriation of millions of acres of Native American land, to the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves but did not establish a federal policy that Black people could own land, to the internment camps that cost Japanese Americans their homes and businesses, home and land ownership have been afforded only to some. Housing discrimination in many forms, including redlining and predatory lending, continues today.

Those grave injustices have been compounded by discrimination of other kinds. Efforts to dismantle protections for racial minorities in higher education are ongoing. Tax-paying immigrants have long been denied social services that are available to others. We have an unrelenting gender- and race-based wage gap, which penalizes women of color most of all. And the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many inequities.

The Racial Wealth Gap Undermines Health

The racial wealth gap has a clear and direct impact on health and is a root cause of disparities in health, wellbeing and survival. The most obvious reason is that, in our country you have to pay for healthcare, from doctor’s visits to preventive services to medications that can prolong, improve, or even save your life. If you cannot pay, you may be burdened with a staggering amount of medical debt or you may not get the care you need.

Research shows that overall health is linked not only with a country’s overall level of wealth, but also with how that wealth is distributed—and in the United States, distribution of wealth is deeply, fundamentally, and increasingly unequal. Health equity is impossible unless we dismantle structural racism, overcome the racial wealth gap, and distribute wealth more equitably.

That’s why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) work to advance health equity and a Culture of Health incorporates a focus on economic inclusion for all families, no matter their race or zip code. If you live in a community that has little or no capital coming in, your health and wellbeing is unlikely to be secure. Community and family wealth are essential to good health.

Funding Research into the Solutions We Need

Policies that build and sustain economic security and wealth for families of color are the focus of our funding opportunity. We are not looking for research that only documents the problem or examines the harm the racial wealth gap causes. Rather, we are looking for research that identifies community-oriented policies that can effectively dismantle the racial wealth gap.

Applicants must propose investigations into policy solutions that align with the work of racial justice organizations and community groups. Among the many potentially transformative policies being proposed and tested right now are:

●       Baby bonds,
●       Reparations,
●       Tax credits and exemptions,
●       Community land trusts,
●       Community asset ownership,
●       Universal basic income,
●       Confronting and closing the racial wealth gap for people with disabilities,
●       Support for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-owned businesses, and
●       Many others.

We aim to fund research into how effective those and other policy ideas are at creating environments that enable communities and families of color to dream, invest, and design inclusive economies that build and sustain generational wealth. We expect the evidence that emerges from this work to inform and incentivize policymakers to invest in solutions.

We welcome applications from people and groups that may not have applied for RWJF grants before and will look favorably on applicants that center community involvement in their research design. By doing so, we hope to help change the demographics of who does policy research and diversify those who are considered experts.

In all its grantmaking, RWJF centers health equity by looking for researchers who bring lived and professional experience to the table, produce nuanced, racially disaggregated data, make communities affected by the research a part of the research process, and utilize equitable evaluation principles.

Through this new program, we intend to advance anti-racist policies and make it possible for communities of color that have been denied opportunities throughout our history to finally build intergenerational wealth and reap the health and economic benefits it provides.

This funding opportunity is now closed. Learn more about our policy and law research through our Policies for Action program. 


About the Authors

Alexandra Zisser supports RWJF’s research efforts in health and health equity, including its Policies for Action initiative, which seeks to build the evidence base for policies that can improve racial equity in health and wellbeing in the United States. 

Mona Shah, a senior program officer in the Research-Evaluation-Learning unit, joined RWJF in 2014. Drawing on her deep commitment to research and its potential to impact health and healthcare, she praises the Foundation’s work in making its extensive research accessible to the public and policymakers alike.