Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved have been excluded from full citizenship in the United States for the last 247 years — and granting them full citizenship will cost between $13 trillion and $14 trillion, economist William “Sandy” Darity told a conference of fellow U.S. economists last week.
To see the impact of second-class citizenship on Black Americans, look no further than the racial wealth gap, Darity, a professor of public policy at Duke University, said during a panel on inequality at the American Economic Association meetings.
The “central task” of reparations policy is to raise the level of Black assets to a level sufficient to match the average net worth of white Americans, Darity said. Only this will produce the material conditions for full citizenship for Black Americans, he said.
At present, the racial wealth gap exceeds an average of $300,000 per person, Darity said. The enormous expected cost of such a program is due to the estimate that there are roughly 40 million Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved in the U.S.
For comparison, the full size of the economy is $25.72 trillion in the third quarter.
A reparations program of this magnitude “could finally lead to closure on the harms and damages of the nation’s racial history,” Darity said. Black Americans would have no further claims for race-specific restitution from the government, he said.
Where does Darity’s estimate come from? The destruction of Black property and exclusion of Black people from government programs that created wealth, he said.
At the end of the Civil War, newly freed enslaved people were promised 40 acres by the federal government, but the plan was quickly reversed and shelved.
Since then, Black people were blocked from participating in federal government programs that led to significant wealth, starting with the Homestead Act of 1862 that provided citizens with 160 acres of land and continuing through the G.I. Bill, which gave World War II veterans funds for college and housing.
In addition, Black property was seized and taken in government-sanctioned riots. Later, the expansion of the federal highway system destroyed many Black communities and businesses.