The economic collapse of the late 2000s hurt most Americans—but not equally. In fact, according to a 2011 Pew study (visualized above), while median household wealth dropped by 16 percent for white Americans, it dropped a stunning 53 percent for African-Americans.
What accounts for this dramatic disparity? Traditional explanations
tend to focus on structural economic factors, such as the fact that
African American families had a higher proportion of their total wealth
tied up in the vulnerable housing market, and that they were targeted by predatory lenders. But according to a new paper just out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that
may not be the full explanation. It looks as though a more subtle form
of racial bias may have played a role as well—thanks to psychological
factors that, in a recession, tend to make those biases worse.
The new study is by Amy Krosch and David Amodio of New York
University. Amodio in particular has extensively studied what are called
"implicit" racial biases:
Uncontrolled prejudices that manifest themselves in our split-second
reactions to images or in other cognitive tests. According to one estimate, for instance, 75 percent of whites harbor these subtle, subconscious biases in favor of other whites, and against blacks.