Thomas Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future


Monday, November 13, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Allison Dining Room

Thomas M. Shapiro, Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy, Brandeis University.

Wealth is not just a matter of money. As our interviews reveal, wealth is also about power, status, opportunity, identity, and self-image. Wealth confers transformative advantages while lack of it brings tremendous disadvantages. A body of work shows how wealth solidifies achievement and builds solid foundations for economic security. Without that foundation—as many of the families we interviewed experienced firsthand—hard-won gains are easily lost.

We must understand wealth and income inequality together with racial inequality. Greater income and wealth inequality trends converge with a widening racial wealth gap. We conceptualize this kind of inequality toxic because, over time and generations, it builds upon itself. Wealth and race map together to consolidate historic injustices, which now weave through neighborhoods and housing markets, educations institutions, and labor markets, creating an increasingly tiered opportunity structure.

So long as we have entrenched wealth inequality intertwined with racial inequality, we cannot even begin to bend the arc toward equity.

Read an excerpt from the book
Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Futureby Thomas M. Shapiro. Basic Books 2017.

About the speaker

Thomas M. Shapiro is the Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy at the Heller School, Brandeis University, where he directs the Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

Professor Shapiro's primary interest is in racial inequality and public policy. He is a leader in the asset development field with a particular focus on closing the racial wealth gap. 

He is the author of several award-winning books, including The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality (Oxford University Press, 2004) and Black Wealth / White Wealth (co-authored with Melvin L. Oliver), which received the 1997 Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award from the American Sociological Association, the 1995 C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems. A tenth anniversary edition of Black Wealth/White Wealth, with two new chapters examining the most important changes in racial inequality and developments in asset policy in the past decade, was published in 2006.

Shapiro is the 2016 recipient of the CFED's Assets and Opportunity Award. (CFED became Prosperity Now in June 2017).



See also: Fall 2017