Race Still Matters in the United States, according to The Equality of Opportunity Project

By Carla J. Kimbrough

Race still matters in the United States, especially for black boys and men, according to a new study from The Equality of Opportunity Project.

On its website, “Two Americas: Upward Mobility for White vs. Black Children,” the project authors wrote: “In our most recent study, we analyze racial differences in economic opportunity using data on 20 million children and their parents. We show black children have much lower rates of upward mobility and higher rates of downward mobility than white children, leading to black-white income disparities that persist across generations.”

The two Americas theme echoes the warning issued by the Kerner Commission when it released its report 50 years ago. “This is our basic conclusion: Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.”

This new study, though, found that it didn’t matter whether a black boy grew up in a wealthy family.

“Growing up in a high-income family provides no insulations from these disparities,” the study’s authors wrote in a non-technical summary of their findings. “American Indian and black children have much higher rates of downward mobility than other groups. Black children born to parents in the top income quintile are almost as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as they are to remain in the top quintile. By contrast, white children born in the top quintile are nearly five times as likely to stay there as they are to fall to the bottom. Because of these differences in economic mobility, blacks and American Indians are “stuck in place” across generations. There positions in the income distribution are unlikely to change over time without efforts to increase their rates of upward mobility.”

A New York Times article, published March 19, put it like this: “Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children. White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.”

This finding may not have surprised Kerner commission members who offered recommendations as they discussed economic trends in its chapter, “Unemployment, Family Structure and Social Disorganization.”

The Commission identified three groups of African Americans: the smallest group, middle and upper income individuals and households similar to those of middle and upper income white groups; the largest group, where incomes were above “poverty level” but who have not attained the educational, occupational or income status of typical middle-class Americans; and the third group, who lives below the poverty level with very low educational, occupational and income attainment.

“For residents of disadvantaged Negro neighborhoods, obtaining good jobs is vastly more difficult than for most workers in society,” the report said. “For decades, social, economic, and psychological disadvantages surrounding the urban Negro poor have impaired their work capacities and opportunities. The result is a cycle of failure – the employment disabilities of one generation breed those of the next.”

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, will speak at the National Civic League’s National Conference of Local Governance. Register today.


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