Reparations for Black Californians Could Exceed $800 Billion

It may cost California up to $800 billion to compensate Black residents for generations of over-policing, disproportionate incarceration, and housing discrimination; economists have told a state panel considering compensation payments.

The preliminary estimate is almost three times California’s $300 billion annual budget. California’s reparations task force consulted five economists and policy experts to arrive at the number. 

The task force concluded that the estimate does not include $1 million per older Black resident for health disparities that may have shortened their average lifespan.

The estimate also doesn’t include compensating people for property unjustly taken by the government or devaluing Black businesses, two other harms the task force says were perpetuated by the state.

The reparations task force is meeting Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the cost. 

“We’ve got to go in with an open mind and come up with some creative ways to deal with this,” Reggie Jones-Sawyer told the Associated Press. Jones-Sawyer sits on the reparations committee and is one of two lawmakers set to convince Gov. Gavin Newsome to adopt the expenditure. 

In an interview prior to the meeting, Jones-Sawyer said that consulting with budget analysts, other legislators, and the governor’s office would be necessary before deciding whether the scale of payments is feasible. 

The task force must settle on a cash amount before July 1 to recommend to lawmakers how much California will need to give its Black residents. 

In January, a similar reparations panel in San Francisco called for granting $5 million to each of the city’s Black residents. The city’s African American Reparations Advisory Committee argued the city owed compensation to Black residents for decades of discrimination. 

Slavery was never legal in San Francisco or anywhere in California, but activists say that the state-imposed policies economically harmed Black residents and favored their white counterparts. 

To be eligible for the proposed program in San Francisco, an applicant must be 18 years old and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years, among other criteria.

The statewide estimate includes $246 billion to compensate eligible Black Californians whose neighborhoods were subjected to over-policing and prosecution of Black people from 1970 to 2020 in the “war on drugs.” This roughly translates to $125,000 for every person who qualifies.

Economists also included $569 billion to make up for redlining in housing loans which would amount to around $223,000 per eligible resident who lived in California from 1933 to 1977. This assumes all 2.5 million people who identify as Black in California would be eligible. 

Consultants on the task force made clear that “the substantial initial down payment is the beginning of a conversation about historical injustices, not the end of it.”

The state-level panel has not yet determined how Black residents would apply and qualify for compensation. 


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