Race and Economic Mobility

More

by Jamelle Bouie

Via Sociological Images (by way of the Economic Mobility Project) is an interesting chart showing downward class mobility among blacks and whites. Each bar represents the percentage of children who end up in the bottom fifth of income earners by race and income of the parent:

120.jpg


Fifty-four percent of African Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners remain there as adults (compared to 31 percent of whites). Likewise, 46.5 percent of blacks born into the second and middle fifth of income earners—the lower-middle and middle class, respectively—end up in the bottom fifth of income earners by adulthood.

The reasons for widespread downward mobility are complicated, but here are a few possibilities: on the whole, African Americans have few assets and are more likely to be in substantial debt. Moreover, middle-class African Americans are more likely to work in lower-income jobs and careers—nursing, teaching, etc.—and less likely to live in areas with rising or high housing values.

This all comes in addition to the massive destruction of the financial crisis, which wiped out billions in black wealth and erased decades of progress. "As of December 2009," according to The New York Times, "median black wealth dropped 77 percent, to $2,100." The truth is that most blacks only began to accumulate wealth in the 1960s and 70s, after federal laws opened the mainstream economy to the mass of black America. Before then, the black economic experience was marked by low wage labor, sharecropping, and—until the Second World War—outright slavery.

Simply put, the last three years constitute a huge setback in the African American community. The black middle class certainly hasn't disappeared, but it is far from firm ground.

Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In