PROVO — A new study by Brigham Young University sociology professor Jacob Rugh concludes that Black homeownership is at its lowest level since the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and that this could negatively impact voter participation among Black Americans.
The study, published earlier this year in the journal "Race and Social Problems," says Black turnout could consequently be down in the 2020 general elections this fall.
In a summary of Rugh's findings published Wednesday by BYU, the study says white and Latino Americans have largely recovered from the housing crisis of 2008.
"White homeownership is nearing 75% and Latino homeownership has climbed to just under 50%," according to a university news release on the study, while Black homeownership had slipped to 41% as of 2019.
"Longstanding research finds that homeowners are more likely to vote than renters for several reasons," Rugh told KSL.com on Wednesday. "One being that it's easier to vote when you move less often."
Homeowners also feel a greater stake in their community and are more likely to participate in other civic activities, Rugh said.
"But mainly, owning a home and having wealth are kind of measures of economic well-being, and, generally speaking, the more education you have, or the more income or more wealth, in this case, the more likely you are to vote."
In Utah, Rugh said, the pattern holds as well — declining Black homeownership has resulted in lower turnout in recent elections. And in several states that swung the 2016 election, like Michigan and Wisconsin, Black homeownership dropped in tandem with Black turnout.
This study, I believe, provides a sobering measuring stick to understand racial inequality.
–BYU professor Jacob Rugh
"Wisconsin saw one of the greatest drops in Black voter turnout between 2012 and 2016," the BYU release on the study says, "collapsing from near 80% to under 50% as homeownership there dropped just a few percentage points."
Rugh said Black Americans, and particularly Black women, already vote at high rates, but would likely vote even more if afforded "more of a piece of the American dream through homeownership."
There are both direct and indirect ways to tackle the problem, Rugh said. Making homeownership more affordable would be a direct solution; that might include lowering down payments and building more affordable housing, he said.
He said reparations may not be realistic right now but would make a big difference as well.
"But there are other things that economists advocate such as baby bonds, postal banking — there are a number of solutions that would help close that gap in assets, or wealth." The study points to Montgomery County, Maryland, and Seattle as places that have made progress on these fronts.
Rugh hopes his study and its implications can be part of the national conversation about race happening now.
"I think we have to think bigger," he said. "We have to think about how these racial disparities were produced over a long time period by lots of different policies, such as redlining and mass incarceration."
In the BYU release, Rugh said American society is "being divided."
"It’s not just black and white," he said, "but there are still these lasting disparities. This study, I believe, provides a sobering measuring stick to understand racial inequality."