Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

It’s time to heal the deep wounds of racism – not only to ensure equity for African-Americans, but for our entire economy.

Four hundred years ago, the first enslaved people from Africa arrived in Virginia. Enslaved labor created the backbone for America’s capitalist economy, allowing it to grow into – and remain – the world’s leading economy today.

The effects of this reliance on unpaid African slave labor is still felt in America’s current racial wealth divide.

Although slavery officially ended in 1865, the unequal treatment of African-Americans continued through Jim Crow, redlining and mass incarceration, among many public policies. Our country’s historic racial-wealth disparities continue to be perpetuated and increased by the trend towards extreme inequality in the United States.

A report released earlier this year by the Institute for Policy Studies found that, between 1983 and 2016, the median black family saw their wealth drop by more than half, compared to a 33-percent increase for the median white household.

Thirty-seven percent of black families have zero or “negative” wealth, meaning their debts exceed the value of their assets. Just 15 percent of white families are in the same position.

The racial wealth divide is an issue that affects all Americans – and the overall health of our economy.

Many conversations around the depletion of black wealth point towards false narratives about the work ethic of African-Americans. This is a myth – studies show that college-educated black families have less wealth than high-school-educated white families. And single-parent white families are twice as wealthy as two-parent black families.

The Institute for Policy Studies concludesthat these outcomes are not the result of individual behavior, but the result of black Americans having fewer resources to begin with – resources they’ve been denied for 400 years.

Employment, income, home ownership, stock ownership, entrepreneurship, and virtually all other economic indicators show stark divides around race. To truly overcome these divides, we need a massive, targeted investment similar to the massive, targeted investments that historically appropriated wealth to white communities. It’ll take bold structural reform and political will.

By creating a formal commission to study the issue, lawmakers can take a serious look at what reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in America could look like.

Inaction – or, worse, repeating the same mistakes that led to this situation – will simply widen the divide and create greater economic instability for the country at large.

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