Lost Generational Wealth

The growing gap between worker productivity and pay has been a new source of wealth since the early 1970’s. A much older but similar source of wealth was pocketed by slave owners.

A Citigroup historical review of ties to slavery shows at least indirect profits. The company acknowledged that slavery and slave labor “most likely” enriched the banks and other companies that eventually formed it. A predecessor bank had dealings with a large Alabama landowner in the 1830s. Profits earned by Lehman Brothers, which was founded in 1850 and partly merged with Citi in 1998, had known ties to slavery. And finally Moses Taylor, a New York merchant who imported sugar from Cuba that was produced by slave labor, banked with a Citigroup predecessor. (Emily Flitter, The New York Times, July 27, 2023)

From Citigroup’s statement on the review:

Inequities resulting from the United States’ history of slavery have shaped barriers that Black communities continue to face more than 150 years after the abhorrent practice was abolished. . . We remain committed to doing our part to close the racial wealth gap by expanding financial inclusion in communities of color, supporting the visions of diverse entrepreneurs and much more. None of this changes the past but it can help make for a more equitable future.

(“Re-examining Citi’s Historical Connections to Slavery in the U.S.,” Edward Skyler, Citigroup, July 27, 2023)

Aside from the uncompensated labor of slavery itself, continued discrimination maintains Black inequality. Examples include banks red lining mortgages to segregate Black homes and denial of government benefits such as the G.I. Bill. Wealth not accumulated and passed down over generations has led to a generational gap that is a convincing argument for reparations today.

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  1. The GI Bill helped create the affluent American society of the 1950s and 1960s, but the distribution of its benefits were unequal. African Americans were shut out of schools, neighborhoods, and entire economic brackets. (Herbold, 106-107) That meant less generational wealth to pass on. “Though the bill helped White Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years, it didn’t deliver on that promise for veterans of Color.” (Erin Blakemore, “How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,” History, June 21, 2023)