Slavery Reparations Could Carry A $17.1 Trillion Price Tag. Or $51 Trillion. It Depends Who’s Doing The Math

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Written by Dana Sanchez

A bill on slavery reparations will likely die in a Republican-majority Senate, but that won’t last forever and it hasn’t stopped people from trying to put a number on the bill taxpayers could pay to cover the cost of reparations.

Democrats raised the idea of reparations on Capitol Hill in June at the first hearing in 10 years on H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. H.R. 40 is named after the 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves after hundreds of years of slavery.

Yahoo Finance calculated the cost of reparations could reach as high as $17.1 trillion. University of Connecticut researcher Thomas Craemer estimated reparations would cost $5.9 trillion-to-$14 trillion and Marketwatch came up with a bill of $16 trillion.

Reparations aren’t about playing victim or race-baiting, H.R. 40 co-sponsor Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) said. They’re about the legacy of slavery that persists today for African Americans.

“If the best policies are informed by data, the data supports the fact that Black Americans continue to be in the bottom of every outcome when it comes to health, education, and economics,” Pressley said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “So much work remains to be done in order for us to bend the arc of justice to ensure the full freedom for Black Americans.”

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Yahoo Finance came up with its $17.1 trillion reparations price tag by adding today’s value in upaid slave wages ($12.9 trillion) to the lingering economic impact of Jim Crow and discrimination in health care, education and criminal justice ($4.2 trillion).

Marketwatch looked at the values of successive generations of U.S. slaves — the total values in 1800, 1830 and 1860 — and applied Treasury bond interest rates to the money over the decades since to come up with a reparations bill of $16 trillion.

That’s about 75 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and slightly more than the total U.S. personal disposable income for a year. It comes out to around $1 million per African-American household, according to Marketwatch.

reparations price tag
This photo shows a bronze statue called “Raise Up”, part of the display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in lynchings, Monday, April 23, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. The memorial and an accompanying museum that open this week in Montgomery are a project of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Craemer came up with the $5.9 trillion-to-$14 trillion figures by figuring out how many hours all slaves—men, women and children—worked in the U.S. from when the country was officially established in 1776 until 1865 when slavery was officially abolished. He published his report in 2015. He multiplied the amount of time slaves worked by average wage prices at the time, adding a compounding interest rate of 3 percent per year.

Previous calculations mostly looked at wealth created by slaves as opposed to services provided, resulting in underestimates, Craemer said.

Craemer’s interest in reparations derives in part from his upbringing in Germany, which had paid $89 billion in reparations to Jewish victims of the Nazis as of 2012.

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“Reparations will never bring one life back, and it’s totally inadequate to the terror of the (past), but having a meaningful symbol of reparations is a good thing, not just for recipients but for the people who provide it,” Craemer said, according to Newsweek.