And even when reform measures brought in agricultural workers and others, those workers still don't have the same amount of social-security credits or occupations that were included at the beginning. History is really important here, especially when we talk about family financial wealth.
White: And what about current policy?
Shapiro: Current policy continues with somewhat of a blind eye to the way implicit racism is operating here. I would point to something like the mortgage-interest deduction, where we invest in the public good of housing approximately $200 billion a year. If you're a homeowner, whatever your [tax] bracket is, that percent of your interest payment you can take off your taxes. It's not so complex of a mechanism, but it operates in a way that privileges those with the highest mortgages. That is, wealthier families. It privileges those that tend to live in suburbs, and sort of actively mitigates against low- and moderate-income homeowners, and homeowners of color whose homes do not increase in value as much. Of that $200 billion that's invested, the top 10 percent of income earners gather 72 percent of that mortgage-interest deduction.
White: That’s pretty significant. How can that be fixed?
Shapiro: That's an easy one. We could flip that in a second by making it flat, by capping it, there's some really easy ways to do that. I think the dynamite question is: what is the racial and ethnic distributional breakdown of who is getting the mortgage-interest deduction? The IRS doesn't collect data on taxes by race, for good reason. The crude way of doing it—my estimate is that African Americans, about 13 percent of the population, bring in about 3.5 percent of the mortgage-interest deduction—I think $30 to $40 billion is left on the table compared with if there were any kind of demographic equity in the distribution. That is another thing that actively impacts wealth-building on a deeply racialized basis.
White: One of the families you follow that was living in St. Louis, Missouri. At one point they say that Ferguson served as one of their dream locations—somewhere they could move for a better life, better schools, better homes. In the wake of the Mike Brown shooting, Americans understand that Ferguson also had plenty of problems. When black families choose to move for better opportunities, how successful are they usually in moving to places where those dreams are actually realized?
Shapiro: The challenges are much more severe for families of color that are trying to make that move. This is symbolic of the desire of all people, not just African Americans, to find a better community for themselves and their kids, especially safety in schools. That's what resonated the most. It's difficult to make that move. In St. Louis in particular, the history is that African Americans from the North side of the city kept moving out further to the suburbs to the Northwest, and the conditions in inner-city St. Louis simply followed them. Those were small, independent municipalities that didn't have a very good tax base, just like Ferguson, and ended up having to finance city revenues through fines and traffic tickets. It's a story that brought Michael Brown and that police officer together in one space and time, in one moment. It's policy that did that.