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That was no typo: The median net worth of black Bostonians really is $8

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Laborer Randall Turner walked past an advertisement for the Pier 4 development on Northern Avenue.

By Globe Staff 

The $8 detail in the Globe’s Spotlight series on race in Boston is not a typo.

The median net worth for non-immigrant African-American households in the Greater Boston region is $8, according to “The Color of Wealth in Boston,” a 2015 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School.

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This Spotlight seven-part series — which began Sunday — tackles the city’s most vexing question: Does Boston deserve its racist reputation?

And to answer just that question, the Globe Spotlight Team analyzed data, launched surveys, and conducted hundreds of interviews. The Color of Wealth in Boston report, which is part of a five-city study looking at wealth disparities among communities of color, was one piece of information that Spotlight examined.

Here are the whys and hows of the study, according to researchers and the report itself.

Researchers conducted phone interviews about the financial status of households in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Tulsa, and Washington, D.C. The survey asked respondents about their assets, liabilities, financial resources, personal savings, and investment activities.

The cities were selected because their diversity allowed researchers to disaggregate data among subgroups within broader racial categories. In Boston, the report said researchers focused on “multigenerational African Americans (referred here as US blacks), Caribbean blacks (including Haitians), Cape Verdeans (both black and white), Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.” A total of 403 people were surveyed.

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The household median net worth was $247,500 for whites; $8 for US blacks (the lowest of all five cities); $12,000 for Caribbean blacks; $3,020 for Puerto Ricans; and $0 for Dominicans (that’s not a typo either.) The sample size for Cape Verdeans was too small to calculate net worth, the report said.

“A lot of people have the impression that the major way in which people amass wealth is through savings out of their income,” said William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who was one of the lead investigators of the study.

That’s not the case.

Net worth, the report said, is determined by “subtracting debts from assets.”

In this instance, both financial (savings and checking accounts, money market funds, government bonds, stocks, retirement accounts, business equity, and life insurance) and tangible (houses, vehicles, and other real estate) assets were included. The debts included were credit card balances; student, installment, and car loans; medical debt; and mortgages.

All told, this means that US blacks and Dominicans in Greater Boston owe almost as much as the combined value of what they own — if they own anything at all.

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The Spotlight series focuses on Boston’s black community specifically, not all communities of color, because the city’s unwelcoming image most directly corresponds to a long and contentious history with black people.

Explore the full report here.


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.