A Rising Tide Lifts Mostly Yachts

Median Household Income.jpg
Doubling down on our conversation over Patrick Sharkey's work from yesterday, what you have here is chart of real median income over the past forty years or so. You can't really make a hard black and white comparison before the early 70s, because "White"--as has always been the case--is a category in flux. At some point in the early 70s we started tracking Hispanics as either white or nonwhite. At any rate, this study from the Census tells us what we already know about the black-white income gap--that very little has changed:
 
Comparing the 2011 income of nonHispanic-White households to that of other households shows that the ratio of Asian to non-Hispanic-White income was 1.18, the ratio of Black to nonHispanic-White income was 0.58, and the ratio of Hispanic to non-HispanicWhite income was 0.70. Between 1972 and 2011, the change in the Black-to-non-Hispanic-White income ratio was not statistically significant.11 Over the same period, the Hispanicto-non-Hispanic-White income ratio declined from 0.74 to 0.70. Income data for the Asian population was first available in 1987. The 2011 Asian to-non-Hispanic-White income ratio was not statistically different from the 1987 ratio.
Again, consider that this stunning lack of change enjoys the black drop of record declines in teen pregnancy and declines in the murder rate in black communities. Also, you should view even small progress in black income with some skepticism.  From the great social scientist Douglass Massey we have this useful perspective, pointed out to me yesterday in comments:
 
People in Jail and prison are excluded from the data sources used to compare income and unemployment ... mass imprisonment thus renders America's most vulnerable citizens, quite literally, "invisible" to policymakers and the public... Roughly two-thirds of prison inmates were employed at the time of their incarceration, and at the time they entered prison these workers earned systematically lower wages than their non-incarcerated counterparts. 
 
After adjusting for the selective exclusion of these poorly paid workers from the labor force because of rising imprisonment, Western (2006, 100-1) fount that the apparent improvement in black wages all but disappeared. Relative black wages rose in government statistics during the late 1980s and 1990s not because African American workers were earning higher wages relative to whites, but because those earning the lowest wages were systematically being removed from the labor force and put behind bars.
So yeah, I think I'll go bake another angel food cake. Or something.
 
 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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