Here's What Racism Costs the American Economy

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Discrimination robs Americans of wealth. It's a stark statement for a stark reality, one made all the clearer when it's put into hard numbers. Over the course of two decades, microaggressions and overt racism alike add up not just in human costs but in the very economy itself.

Citigroup has just published a 100-page study on the economic cost of Black inequality in the United States. Discrimination against African Americans alone has cost $16 trillion since 2000, nearly equal to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019. To put that in perspective, Black Americans make up around 13 percent of the total population. According to Citigroup, those losses come in the form of wage disparities, housing discrimination, lost potential business revenue due to lending practices, and unequal access to higher education.

Much of this theft of potential wealth doesn't come from sneering racists and cartoon villains. It's the lack of diversity in job referrals. It's minorities facing higher fees for mortgages. It's implicit bias undermining salary negotiations. It's college tuition eating half a household's yearly income. It's the added burden of racial discrimination when dealing with a pandemic.

According to Citigroup, tackling just a few systemic barriers to equal access could boost the American economy to the tune of $5 trillion over the next five years. Given how much trouble we're in, with pressing issues like unemployment and income inequality undermining so many Americans, addressing this fundamental unfairness makes not just ethical sense but political and economic sense as well.