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The Stark Racial Inequity of Personal Finances in America

We cannot quantify the injustice of a white policeman holding his knee on the neck of a handcuffed, dying black man. And mere numbers cannot fully express the power imbalance involved in the deaths of George Floyd and too many others like him.

But we can measure the economic inequity that serves as their backdrop.

Dollars are like air — crucial to vitality. And when it comes to wealth, black Americans have less at nearly every juncture of life, from birth to death.

Perversely, having less can cost more. Black students borrow more to go to college, don’t finish as often and more frequently default on their student loans. They earn less, and generally have lower credit scores — so they pay higher interest rates. It’s harder for them to save for retirement, and they leave less to the next generation when they die.

An imbalance of societal power cannot be separated from cradle-to-grave economic inequality. This is what that looks like.

From board books for toddlers to quality care, it can be costly to get a child started in life. And black families typically have fewer financial resources to draw on.

Black families with a new baby have a median household income of $36,300, according to an analysis of 2018 census data by the Center on Poverty & Social Policy. For white families, it was more than twice as much: $80,000.

Black families were behind other groups, too. For Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, the median income was $105,600. Among multiracial families, the figure was $64,000. Hispanic families had $48,400 in income, and Native American and Alaskan Native families had $41,000.

Starting with less makes many things in the future that much harder. For example, every unspent dollar of earnings can potentially be saved for higher education.

Once a child enrolls in college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree isn’t a given. But here, too, blacks have it worse than nearly any other group.

Their six-year completion rate through June 2017 for students starting at a four-year institution was 38.9 percent, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. For whites, it was 64.8 percent — even though both groups graduate from high school at roughly the same rate.

Asian-Americans (72.1 percent), mixed-race students (54.5 percent) and Hispanics (50.5 percent) were also ahead of blacks. Only Native Americans and Alaskan Natives finished at a lower rate: Just 26.3 percent within six years.

Starting but not finishing is often the worst of both worlds: Large numbers of these students end up with debt, but they don’t get the degree and the earnings boost that usually come with it.

A college education is supposed to help pave a path to financial security. For many black students, that’s far from guaranteed: They tend to borrow significantly more than their white peers, and they’re more likely to default on their loans.

Twenty-one percent of black graduates with bachelor’s degrees default. That’s more than five times the rate of their white peers (4 percent). Even white dropouts (18 percent) are less likely to default, according to a 2018 analysis by Judith Scott-Clayton, an associate professor of economics and education in the Economics and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

She looked at data for people who started school for the first time in the 2003-4 academic year and analyzed their experiences over the next dozen years. Only 1.4 percent of Asian bachelor’s degree graduates defaulted during that period, with Hispanic graduates defaulting 8.6 percent of the time.

Black students who earned bachelor’s degrees also accumulated more debt than whites. They borrowed $21,149 on average, nearly twice as much as whites, by the time they left school. (This includes students who didn’t borrow at all.) But it got worse after that: By the end of the 12-year period that Ms. Scott-Clayton examined, blacks owed $64,142 — three times as much as whites. That’s because black degree-holders had both higher levels of graduate school borrowing and lower rates of repayment.

Even with a college degree, black Americans can’t count on getting a paycheck of the same size.

The black/white wage gap was significantly wider in 2019 than at the start of the century — even as Hispanic workers have slightly narrowed their own gap with white workers, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute.

But the gap isn’t a function of differences in education levels. Even among those who attain advanced degrees, blacks were paid 82.4 cents for every dollar earned by their white peers. Hispanics do better, at 90.1 cents on the dollar.

And the gender pay gap expands the racial gap into a chasm: Black women, on average, earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to another report from the institute.

The home is the largest asset for many American families, which may help build wealth over time. Paying down a mortgage often serves as a forced savings plan, enabling families to build equity that they can tap in retirement or leave to their heirs.

Black families have long been behind their white peers in homeownership, but that gap is the largest it has been in a half-century, according to the Urban Institute.

In 2018, about 72 percent of white households owned homes, compared with nearly 41.7 percent of blacks, 47.5 percent of Hispanics and 59.5 percent of Asians, according to the institute, using the 2018 American Community Survey. In 1960, nearly 65 percent of whites owned homes, compared with 38.1 percent of blacks, 45.2 percent of Hispanics and 42.8 percent of Asians, according to an analysis of census data.

“The gap in the homeownership rate between black and white families in the U.S. is bigger today than it was when it was legal to refuse to sell someone a home because of the color of their skin,” the Urban Institute wrote.

The science of measuring retirement assets is imperfect, because older Americans can draw on any number of resources if they have them, including home equity, a pension and Social Security.

Those assets aren’t as flexible, however, as a workplace savings plan like a 401(k) or an individual retirement account. Blacks are less likely to have such accounts, and tend to have less in them when they do.

Sixty percent of white families have at least one retirement account, while just 34 percent of black families do, according to the most recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, which drew on data from 2016. Hispanic families have even fewer, at 30 percent. (The survey does not break other groups into distinct categories.)

Families with white heads of household have balances that dwarf the holdings of families headed by blacks, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which looked at the same Federal Reserve data and measured families with family heads between the ages of 55 and 64.

The median balance was $151,000 for whites and $46,100 for blacks. Hispanics had the lowest numbers here, too, with a median of $43,000.

The imbalance in homeownership and retirement accounts makes it unsurprising that white households are more likely to receive an inheritance than black ones. In fact, they are about two and a half times as likely to do so, according to research from two Fed economists, Jeffrey P. Thompson and Gustavo A. Suarez.

They looked at households headed by people ages 30 to 59 in 2013 and 2016. Twenty-three percent of white families reported having received an inheritance. Just 9 percent of black families answered affirmatively, and only 5 percent of Hispanic families did so.

Whites received more, too: The median inheritance in white families was $56,217, while blacks received $38,224 and Hispanics were just behind at $37,124.

So even if white families had fallen behind in the first part of adulthood, they had a better chance of catching up with a single boost. And those who are already doing better widen the gap further when a relative dies.

At that point, the process begins anew for their kids. And their kids’ kids.

And here we are.

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Misinformation About George Floyd Protests Surges on Social Media

On Twitter and Facebook, hundreds of posts are circulating saying that George Floyd is not actually dead.

Conspiracy theorists are baselessly arguing that George Soros, the billionaire investor and Democratic donor, is funding the spreading protests against police brutality.

And conservative commentators are asserting with little evidence that antifa, the far-left antifascism activist movement, coordinated the riots and looting that sprang from the protests.

Untruths, conspiracy theories and other false information are running rampant online as the furor over Mr. Floyd, an African-American man who was killed last week in police custody in Minneapolis, has built. The misinformation has surged as the protests have dominated conversation, far outpacing the volume of online posts and media mentions about last year’s protests in Hong Kong and Yellow Vest movement in France, according to the media insights company Zignal Labs.

At its peak on Friday, Mr. Floyd and the protests around his death were mentioned 8.8 million times, said Zignal Labs, which analyzed global television broadcasts and social media. In contrast, news of the Hong Kong protests reached 1.5 million mentions a day and the Yellow Vest movement 941,000.

“The combination of evolving events, sustained attention and, most of all, deep existing divisions make this moment a perfect storm for disinformation,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “All of it is toxic, and make our very real challenges and divisions harder to address.”

The collision of racial tensions and political polarization during the coronavirus pandemic has supersized the misinformation, researchers said. Much of it is being shared by the conspiracy group QAnon and far-right commentators as well as by those on the left, Mr. Brookie said.

President Trump himself has stoked the divisive information. Over the past few days, he posted on Twitter that antifa was a “Terrorist Organization” and urged the public to show up for a “MAGA Night” counterprotest at the White House.

Along with that, people are experiencing high levels of fear, uncertainty and anger, said Claire Wardle, executive director of First Draft, an organization that fights online disinformation. That creates “the worst possible context for a healthy information environment,” she said.

Twitter and Facebook did not immediately have a comment.

Here are three significant categories of falsehoods that have surfaced on social media platforms about Mr. Floyd’s death and the protests.

The unfounded rumor that Mr. Floyd is alive is emblematic of the misinformation narrative that a newsworthy event was staged. This has become an increasingly common refrain over the years, with conspiracy theorists saying, among other examples, that the 1969 moon landing and the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School were hoaxes.

On Friday, the YouTube conspiracy channel JonXArmy shared a 22-minute video that falsely asserted Mr. Floyd’s death had been faked. The video was shared nearly 100 times on Facebook, mostly in groups run by QAnon, reaching 1.3 million people, according to data from CrowdTangle, a tool that analyzes interactions across social media.

Jon Miller, who runs the JonXArmy channel, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. YouTube said on its site that it had removed the video, citing its policy on hate speech.

On Twitter, posts stating that “George Floyd is not dead” were also tweeted hundreds of times over the past week, with the phrase peaking at 15 mentions in a 10-minute span on Monday morning, according to Dataminr, a social media monitoring service.

In thousands of other posts on Facebook and Twitter, people falsely stated that Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer who was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Mr. Floyd’s death, was an actor and that the entire incident had been faked by the deep state.

The false idea that Mr. Soros funded the protests spiked on social media over the past week, showing how new events can resurrect old conspiracy theories. Mr. Soros has for years been cast as an anticonservative villain by a loose network of activists and political figures on the right and has become a convenient boogeyman for all manner of ills.

On Twitter, Mr. Soros was mentioned in 34,000 tweets in connection with Mr. Floyd’s death over the past week, according to Dataminr. Over 90 videos in five languages mentioning Soros conspiracies were also posted to YouTube over the past seven days, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

On Facebook, 72,000 posts mentioned Mr. Soros in the past week, up from 12,600 the week before, according to The Times’s analysis. Of the 10 most engaged posts about Mr. Soros on the social network, nine featured false conspiracies linking him to the unrest. They were collectively shared over 110,000 times.

Two of the top Facebook posts sharing Soros conspiracies were from Texas’ agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, an outspoken supporter of Mr. Trump.

“I have no doubt in my mind that George Soros is funding these so-called ‘spontaneous’ protests,” Mr. Miller wrote in one of the posts. “Soros is pure evil and is hell-bent on destroying our country!”

Mr. Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said that the Soros conspiracy videos did not violate the company’s guidelines but that the site wasn’t recommending them.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Soros said, “We deplore the false notion that the people taking to the streets to express their anguish are paid, by George Soros or anyone else.”

The unsubstantiated theory that antifa activists are responsible for the riots and looting was the biggest piece of protest misinformation tracked by Zignal Labs, which looked at certain categories of falsehoods. Of 873,000 pieces of misinformation linked to the protests, 575,800 were mentions of antifa, Zignal Labs said.

The antifa narrative gained traction because “long-established networks of hyperpartisan social media influencers now work together like a well-oiled machine,” said Erin Gallagher, a social media researcher.

That began when Mr. Trump tweeted on Sunday that “ANTIFA led anarchists” and “Radical Left Anarchists” were to blame for the unrest, without providing specifics. Then he called antifa “a Terrorist Organization.”

Dan Bongino, a conservative political commentator who has unsuccessfully run for a House seat several times, then took up the call. On the “Fox and Friends” television show on Monday, Mr. Bongino said antifa activists were responsible for a “sophisticated” attack on the White House and called it an “insurrection.”

He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Those assertions soon spread around social media. More than 6,000 Facebook posts linking the antifa movement to the protests appeared in the last seven days, collecting over 1.3 million likes and shares, according to The Times’s analysis.

And on Twitter, a fake “manual” specifying “riot orders” that was supposedly issued by Democrats directing antifa activists to stir up trouble circulated prominently. But the so-called manual was a resurrection of an old hoax linked to the April 2015 riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the fact-checking website Snopes reported.

Sheera Frenkel contributed reporting. Ben Decker contributed research.

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Twitter Places Warning on Trump Minneapolis Tweet, Saying It Glorified Violence

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump raged against Twitter on Friday morning after the social media company added a warning label to a tweet he posted in the middle of the night implying that protesters in Minneapolis could be shot, escalating tensions between the president and his favorite online megaphone.

Amid the unrest in Minnesota, the president took time out to expand on his feud with Twitter, accusing it of targeting conservatives and him in particular and calling for legislation to revoke the company’s legal liability protections that are foundational to its business. The official White House account then reposted the tweet that had been flagged in a move meant to defy the company. Twitter responded by adding the same notice on the White House account.

The company said Mr. Trump’s original post violated its rules against glorifying violence, and it prevented users from viewing the tweet without reading a brief notice, the first time it has restricted one of the president’s messages in this way. Twitter also blocked users from liking or replying to Mr. Trump’s post, though they were still allowed to retweet it if they added a comment of their own.

But Twitter did not take the tweet down, saying it was in the public’s interest that the message remain accessible.

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In the tweet, posted early Friday morning, Mr. Trump called the protesters “thugs” and said he had told Minnesota’s governor that the military was “with him all the way.”

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president wrote. “Thank you!”

Twitter said it had decided to restrict the tweet “based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

The company’s decision came a day after Mr. Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit the legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally shields social media companies from liability for the content posted on their platforms. The president had fulminated over Twitter’s decision earlier this week to add fact-checking labels for the first time to two of his tweets. In response, he accused Twitter of stifling speech and said that he would end the interference.

By Friday morning, he was lashing out again, using his Twitter feed to complain about Twitter.

“Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party,” Mr. Trump wrote. “They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated!” He posted a few other tweets citing similar views by his favorite Fox News hosts.

In its separate Twitter account, the White House added a jab directly at Jack Dorsey, the company’s chief executive: “The President did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it. @Jack and Twitter’s biased, bad-faith ‘fact-checkers’ have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.”

And Dan Scavino, the president’s deputy chief of staff, said Twitter should be targeting the protesters in Minneapolis. “Twitter is targeting the President of the United States 24/7, while turning their heads to protest organizers who are planning, plotting, and communicating their next moves daily on this very platform,” he wrote. “Twitter is full of shit — more and more people are beginning to get it.”

One of the president’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission, which he has asked to develop new regulations cracking down on social media companies, backed him up on Friday morning.

“Twitter has abandoned any attempt at a good faith application of its rules,” Brendan Carr, who has served on the F.C.C. since 2017 and previously served as its general counsel, wrote on Twitter. “No one should take comfort in that. Here it is punishing speakers based on whether it approves or disapproves of their politics.”

First Amendment scholars said Friday morning that Mr. Trump and his allies had it backward and that he was the one trying to stifle speech that clashes with his own views.

“Fundamentally this dispute is about whether Twitter has the right to disagree with, criticize, and respond to the president,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “Obviously, it does. It is remarkable and truly chilling that the president and his advisers seem to believe otherwise.”

Revoking Section 230 protections would expose Twitter and other online platforms to such expansive potential legal vulnerability that it would undermine the fundamentals of their businesses and perhaps make it untenable to continue in anything resembling the current system in which they provide online marketplaces of ideas where almost anything goes.

Paradoxically, it would also remove the very legal standard that has allowed Mr. Trump to use Twitter so effectively to communicate with his 80 million followers no matter how incendiary, false and even defamatory his messages may be. Without a liability shield, Twitter and online companies would be forced to police accounts like Mr. Trump’s even more closely to guard themselves against legal action.

Mr. Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet about the Minneapolis protests echoed a comment by Walter E. Headley, the Miami police chief who attracted national attention in the late 1960s for using shotguns, dogs and a heavy-handed “stop-and-frisk” policy to fight crime in the city’s black neighborhoods.

Mr. Headley announced a “get tough” campaign in a December 1967 news conference that prompted anger among black leaders, The New York Times reported at the time.

“We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprising and looting,” he said, “because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” Mr. Headley also said at that news conference. “They haven’t seen anything yet.”

Twitter has for years faced criticism over Mr. Trump’s posts on the platform, which he has used to issue threats, bully critics and spread falsehoods. The company has said repeatedly that the president did not violate its terms of service, however much he appeared to skirt the line.

The company has also said that blocking world leaders from the service or removing their tweets would hinder public debate around their words and actions. Twitter did announce last year, however, that it would in certain cases place warning labels on posts from political figures that broke its rules, the feature it used with Mr. Trump’s tweet about Minneapolis.

Twitter’s attitude appeared to shift as Mr. Trump posted several times in recent weeks spreading false conspiracy theories suggesting that Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host, may have murdered Lori Klausutis, a member of his staff when he was a Republican congressman from Florida. Ms. Klausutis died from complications of an undiagnosed heart condition that caused her to pass out and hit her head, authorities concluded.

Mr. Scarborough, now one of Mr. Trump’s most outspoken critics, was 800 miles away at the time. Timothy Klausutis asked Twitter to take down the president’s false tweets about his wife, calling them deeply hurtful.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Mr. Klausutis wrote to Mr. Dorsey, the chief executive.

Twitter did not honor the request. Instead, it placed links and warning labels on other tweets Tuesday in which Mr. Trump said mail-in ballots would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.” That led him to sign the executive order, which he framed as an effort to fight social platforms’ biases.

Facebook appears to be trying to forestall such criticism. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, told Fox News this week that he was uncomfortable with Facebook’s being “the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Mr. Trump’s message implying that the Minneapolis protesters could be shot was also posted on his official Facebook page, where it appears without any warning labels.

Frederike Kaltheuner, a tech policy fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, said that Twitter’s confrontation with Mr. Trump raised questions about how the platform would treat other world leaders. In March, the company deleted posts by the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela that contained unproven information about Covid-19 treatments.

“I doubt that Twitter has the resources to consistently apply rules to all heads of states that use their platform in all sorts of languages,” Ms. Kaltheuner said. “From all we know about the many inconsistent ways in which other policies are being enforced, my guess is that places that rarely make U.S. news will likely be overlooked.”

In Mr. Trump’s tweets about Minneapolis on Friday, he also criticized Mayor Jacob Frey’s response.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City,” the president wrote. Mr. Trump said Mr. Frey, a Democrat, must “get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”

It was unclear if the president intended to send additional troops after Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard to help restore order in the Twin Cities. Protests have raged there over the death on Monday of George Floyd, a black man who had been pinned down by a white police officer who pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

Mr. Trump had previously described the video of Mr. Floyd’s death as a “very shocking sight” and “a very very sad event,” saying he had asked the F.B.I.’s investigation to be expedited.

Mr. Frey did not know about Mr. Trump’s tweets until a reporter read them aloud during a news conference early on Friday. The mayor shook his head and then gave a fiery retort, slamming a podium for emphasis.

“Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions,” he said. “Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis.”

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” he continued. “We are strong as hell. Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you better be damn sure that we’re going to get through this.”

Adam Satariano contributed reporting.