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African-Americans lost $326bn worth of land in 20th century, study reveals

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Black farms in the US once numbered nearly a million but now there are fewer than 36,000, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s latest farm census. (Photo by AFP)

African-American farmers lost roughly $326 billion worth of acreage during the 20th century, adding to the racial wealth gap in the United States, a new study has revealed.

Between 1920 and 1997, Black farmers in 17 US states lost their lands due to discriminatory policies of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), leading to the forced sale of their land.

The racism unleashed by the government intensified the rate at which the African-Americans lost their ownership of rural lands, says the first study to quantify the present-day value of that loss.

Dr. Dania Francis, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and lead author of the study, cited wealth and land as two major factors for building opportunities for families in the US.

"When huge groups of African Americans were denied that opportunity, it speaks to the intergenerational wealth gap that opened up in part due to this type of land loss," Francis said.

“The past has intergenerational consequences. While other Americans at the time were able to build wealth through land ownership and homeownership, those black families whose land was dispossessed didn’t have that opportunity.”

Dr. Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at The New School and one of the study's authors, said it was “not just theoretical, but empirical”, adding that these are “real losses that occurred.”

According to the census available regarding black farmers at the time, African American farmers represented more than 14 % of America's farming population.

The number has fallen to less than 1 percent in the most recent agricultural consensus in 2017.

In 1919 African American farmers owned more than 16 million acres of land and the number has declined to 4.7 million acres according to recent consensus.

The number $326 is a conservative number according to the report authors, in part due to the fact that multiplier r effects were not taken into account.

American Rescue Plan Act has recently tried to help debt relief to farmers of color however it has been currently stalled in court because white farmers argue the plan is discriminatory.

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