Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has highlighted the need to tackle alleged systematic discrimination that has taken a disproportionate toll on the finances and basic rights of ethnic minority groups during the country's economic crisis.

In a presidential debate on Friday, the Vermont senator said: "As I understand it, the African American community lost half of their wealth as a result of the Wall Street collapse," adding that the country's Latino and Hispanic populations were also hit hard by the 2007-2008 recession.

The issue of minority treatment has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in the race for the presidency.

The debate also saw Sanders' rival Hillary Clinton voice the need to combat racial inequality.

"African-Americans ... face discrimination in the job market, education, housing and the criminal justice system," she said.

Sanders' statement appears to be buttressed by a number of reports and corroborated by Census Bureau data, which showed that black median net worth decreased by 61 percent between 2005 and 2009, while whites lost 21 percent of their wealth.

According to a 2013 report from the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, African-Americans had lost more than half of their wealth since the beginning of the recession through falling homeownership rates and loss of jobs.

READ MORE: Can Bernie Sanders win the African American vote?

2014 Pew report said that between 2007 and 2013 the median net worth of the minority group decreased by 43 percent.

Sanders also devoted a significant portion of his debate to calling for a major reform of the justice system in the face of disproportionate imprisonment rates of blacks.

"This is one of the great tragedies in our country today. And we can no longer continue to sweep it under the rug - it has to be dealt with. Today a male African American baby stands a one-in-four chance of ending up in jail. That is beyond unspeakable," he said.

"So what we have to do is radically reform a broken criminal justice system."

According to a 2015 report by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, African-Americans, who constitute about 12 percent of the population, made up 34 percent of the country's inmates.

2010 report found that black males were imprisoned at a rate six times higher than white males and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males.

Aside from domestic issues, the two candidates also addressed the issue of foreign policy, in which Clinton touted her experience and Sanders highlighted his judgement. Sanders also criticised Clinton for being close to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Source: Al Jazeera