A new study from researchers at the United States Census Bureau, Stanford University and Harvard University makes plain what many already know: There are structural forces that prevent upward economic mobility—and stability—for Black men living in the United States.
"Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” parses longitudinal data, or information that tracks a set sample over time, that represents “nearly the entire” United States population from 1989 to 2015. An illustrated, interactive report from The New York Times today (March 19) breaks down the key points of the study, which shows that the wealth gap between Whites and Blacks is primarily driven by the trajectory of Black boys and the men they become, as Black women experience relatively less disparity when compared to their White counterparts.
Here are five key takeaways from the report, with quoted selections from The Times:
1. Black boys who grow up in the nation’s wealthiest families are more likely than their White counterparts to live in poverty as adults.
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.
Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, Black boys fare worse than White boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.
2. The racist argument that Black people have lower cognitive ability—which causes them to earn less—is nonsense.
The disparities that remain also can’t be explained by differences in cognitive ability, an argument made by people who cite racial gaps in test scores that appear for both Black boys and girls. If such inherent differences existed by race, “you’ve got to explain to me why these putative ability differences aren’t handicapping women,” said David Grusky, a Stanford sociologist who has reviewed the research.
A more likely possibility, the authors suggest, is that test scores don’t accurately measure the abilities of Black children in the first place.
3. This study thoroughly debunks the notion that class is more important to race when it comes to economic mobility.
“One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”
4. The gap between Whites and Blacks is much wider than other groups.
The research makes clear that there is something unique about the obstacles Black males face. The gap between Hispanics and Whites is narrower, and their incomes will converge within a couple of generations if mobility stays the same. Asian-Americans earn more than Whites raised at the same income level, or about the same when first-generation immigrants are excluded. Only Native Americans have an income gap comparable to African-Americans. But the disparities are widest for Black boys.
5. Black men raised in the millionaire households are just as likely to be incarcerated as White men whose families earned an average of $36,000 a year.
The new data shows that 21 percent of Black men raised at the very bottom were incarcerated, according to a snapshot of a single day during the 2010 census. Black men raised in the top 1 percent—by millionaires—were as likely to be incarcerated as White men raised in households earning about $36,000.
Check out The New York Times’ interactive graphs here.