Wharton program helps close America’s vast racial wealth gap

Keith Weigelt, the Marks-Darivoff Family Professor at the Wharton School, aims to help reduce the “racial wealth gap” by teaching financial literacy classes to people in Penn’s surrounding community.

The “Building Bridges to Wealth” program, a Wharton initiative, is currently offered to high school students and adults in underserved communities.

The program was recently featured in the City of Philadelphia’s “Shared Prosperity” annual report on efforts to fight poverty. “Building Bridges to Wealth” was highlighted as an innovative program in the region.

Weigelt says understanding how to budget, eliminate credit card debt, and how to make financial investments can help lead to greater wealth.

The 2010 Census reported that the median net worth of African-American families was $4,955, 22 times less than the median net worth of white American families, which was $110,729. This disparity has been referred to as the racial wealth gap.

“The racial wealth gap has grown every year since the 1980s,” Weigelt says.

The “Building Bridges to Wealth” program for high school students is currently offered at West Philadelphia High School and the Sustainability Workshop School.

The free, six-week session for adults is offered on Thursday evenings at City Hall through the Financial Empowerment Center, and on Saturdays at Wharton.

Application information is available at the “Building Bridges to Wealth” website.

In the sessions, students learn the basics of managing finances, and Weigelt also covers how to make investments. Instead of keeping funds in a bank account, he suggests mutual funds and stocks. 

“Unless you educate people and give them a vehicle to invest with, they’re not going to accumulate wealth because they’re putting their money in assets with low returns,” he says.

After the adults complete the class, they’re invited to join the program’s investing group, which meets twice a month at Wharton. Weigelt starts off the session with a short lecture on a financial aspect of investing. The group then discusses the stock market before members choose the investments they want to make.

Weigelt and Wharton students also run a savings group, which operates like a small credit union, allowing members to pool their money and lend it to one another.

In the future, Weigelt is hoping to create a multi-generational financial literacy session that brings teenagers and their families together in a joint program.

Building Bridges to Wealth