2021 Menino Survey: Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

America’s Mayors Recognize Sizable Racial Wealth Gaps in Their Cities, According to Survey of US Mayors

Mayors Overwhelmingly Believe that Access to Capital Disproportionately Burdens Small Business Owners of Color

At Least Half of Mayors Believe that Housing Programs Should Emphasize Homeownership Over Renting

A strong majority (67%) of mayors are worried about the racial wealth gap in their cities, according to a survey of 126 local leaders across the United States. While this proportion stays similar regardless of the racial demographics in the mayor’s city, leaders of bigger cities are significantly more concerned about the racial gap, as are their counterparts in less expensive cities. The Menino Survey of Mayors, which is conducted annually by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, is the only nationally representative survey of America’s mayors. The full report on mayors’ approaches to closing the racial wealth gap can be found here.

Slightly over a quarter (26%) of mayors of midsize cities expressed significant concerns about the racial wealth gap, compared with 58% of mayors of larger cities. Surprisingly, 52% of mayors of cities with lower housing costs strongly worried about the local racial wealth gap, while only a third (32%) of mayors of more expensive cities felt similarly. The starkest division, however, is along partisan lines: 80% of Democratic mayors are concerned about the racial wealth gap in their community, compared with 30% of Republican mayors – a 50 percentage point gap. Twenty-two percent of Republican mayors said they were not worried at all about their city’s racial wealth gap; no Democratic mayors shared this view.

While the causes of the racial wealth gapwhich a recent Citi Global Perspective & Solutions (GPS) report found to have cost the US economy up to $16 trillion over the last 20 years are manifold, there are important policy tools at the disposal of local governments that can help to reduce the gap, including around the wealth building activities of small business ownership and homeownership. Notably, mayors who were concerned about the racial wealth gap in their cities were almost unanimously in favor of programs targeted to support specific underserved racial and ethnic groups in their communities, such as initiatives to further advance Black and Latino small business ownership and homeownership.

However, mayors were less supportive of specific programs to address the racial wealth gap. Several cities have piloted programs explicitly targeted towards narrowing the wealth gap, including Evanston, IL’s reparations program that offers homeownership assistance for Black city residents and Stockton, CA’s universal basic income program, which provided $500 per month to low-income households for two years. Only 4 in 10 mayors across the country were supportive of the idea of implementing similar programs in their cities.

“This year’s survey underscores local leaders’ awareness of the numerous challenges that the racial wealth gap presents in communities across the country,” said Katherine Levine Einstein, Menino Survey Co-Author and Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University. “This broad agreement goes away, though, when we ask mayors their views on specific policy programs that target this gap, with sharp differences by partisanship, city size, and city socioeconomic status.”

When it comes to local small businesses, mayors overwhelmingly (81%) believe that limited access to capital disproportionately burdens small business owners of color – and nearly all mayors who identified this as a source of inequity believe that lack of personal assets, credit scores, and limited financial support systems among friends and family are “major” reasons for it. Roughly three-quarters of mayors also see limited access to technical assistance, lenders’ racial bias, and lenders’ inability to evaluate risk in minority communities as major contributors to the capital access gap in their cities.

Mayors are most enthusiastic about using technical assistance to address small business racial gaps in their communities: 48% selected it as one of the two tools they most support using, while 31% selected the municipal procurement process and 26% selected direct financial assistance in amounts less than $20,000.

“Breaking cycles of poverty and building wealth in our communities of color strengthens our economies and builds healthier neighborhoods,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. “Local government’s role is about investing in people and places which have for too long not seen the level of investment they need or deserve. We can and must take measures that make it easier for our Black and brown residents to own homes and businesses and to access quality education and good-paying jobs. Local leaders are committed to working intentionally and collectively to address our country’s long-standing racial and economic disparities.”

Almost every mayor identified a lack of personal wealth or assets as a major barrier for their cities’ small business owners of color – and one key contributor to this is the ongoing housing crisis and the high costs of housing. Majorities of mayors of both parties agree that housing programs should emphasize the goal of homeownership over renting, but Republicans agreed at a higher rate (73%) than Democrats (55%).

Concerns about housing prices, development, and the racial wealth gap are closely tied to gentrification and its potential effects on minority residents. When asked to define gentrification in a single sentence, almost two-thirds of mayors mentioned displacement of current residents and one-third mentioned increased prices. Another one-fifth of mayors discussed the role of wealthy people coming into a neighborhood, and 14% talked about the displacement of people of color. Some mayors also talked about how gentrification can improve neighborhoods, but this was much less common than focusing on displacement and the downsides of gentrification.

“The median net worth for Black and Latinx households is $24,000 and $36,000 respectively compared to $189,000 for white household. That is nearly 8x the wealth of Black families and 5x the wealth of Latinx families. We need to be asking ourselves how we got here,” said Gregory Johnson, Managing Director of the Equity & Economic Opportunity initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Rockefeller Foundation is pleased to see mayors across the country take a critical view of this problem and we hope it translates into actions to ultimately close the racial wealth gap.”

The Menino Survey of Mayors, named after the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, is an annual project to understand the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors from large and mid-size (over 75,000 residents) cities. In total, 126 mayors from 39 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2021, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally.

 Additional findings reports from the 2021 Survey covered Covid-19 recovery and homelessness.

Read the Report


December 1, 2022: Bloomberg Cities Network: 5 ways local leaders can use the Racial Wealth Equity Database

March 22, 2022: BU Today: Majority of US Mayors Worried about the Racial Wealth Gap in Their Cities

March 28, 2022: Philanthropy News Digest: Majority of mayors worried about racial wealth gap, survey finds

March 30, 2022: American City and County: Boston University report highlights mayoral perspectives on racial wealth gap

March 31, 2022: Smart Cities Dive: Mayors concerned about racial wealth gap, but no consensus on solutions: survey

April 5, 2022: Governing: Mayors Face a Reckoning With Racial Wealth Gaps

May 11, 2022: MLK50: Memphis’ potential is about Black Memphians reaching theirs