Surviving Capitalism: Affordability as a Racial "Wage" in Contemporary Housing Markets

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In a time of growing inequality, analysts and commentators increasingly highlight the unaffordability of everyday living under capitalism as a convenient language for diagnosing today's problems and devising policy solutions. This article reconsiders the notion of an "affordability crisis"by drawing on Du Bois' conceptualization of the racial "wage"to theorize the uneven development of markets: a racial stratification process that renders capitalism affordable and livable for some non-elites, often whites, but not others. One of racism's economic consequences is that it systematically produces affordability crises for market participants on the wrong side of the color line. Drawing on the literature of published studies on white suburbanization combined with historical evidence on the Community Reinvestment movement, this article illustrates the contrasting affordability politics in the homeowner and renter markets, which are divergent both in racial composition and in terms of their affordability to people without wealth. Ultimately, this article explains how and why marginalized groups undertake efforts to politically reconfigure the way markets work from the ground up, albeit through necessarily strained and improvisational means: as in community groups' appropriation of tax shelters to finance affordable rental housing production, marking a precursor to policies subsequently adopted by mainstream officials and legislators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-339
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • economic sociology
  • housing policy
  • race and racism
  • urban inequality


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