Monday, November 19, 2007

From USAToday Editorial

Downward mobility trend threatens black middle class

In the upper echelons of society, these are halcyon days for African-American achievement. Never before have so many blacks reached the highest levels of government, business, media, entertainment and sports.

At the same time, however, the success of people such as Condoleezza Rice, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington and Tiger Woods has masked a troubling trend.

Reports last week from the Pew Research Center documented extensive downward mobility among the sons and daughters of the black middle class: 45% of black children from those families end up "near poor," Pew reported. The comparable number for white families is 16%.

It would be hard to overstate the significance for blacks or for society generally. It means that the expansion of the black middle class — the key to attaining racial equality since legal barriers were removed 40 years ago — is in jeopardy.

On a personal level, it gives blacks reason to doubt the assumption that America is a place where each generation will surpass the previous one.

African-Americans sense this slippage. Pew pollsters sampling black America found the greatest level of pessimism since 1983. Just one in five says things are better now than they were five years ago. Looking ahead, fewer than half say they think life for blacks will get better.

The causes are complex and interlinked, but several bear closer scrutiny:

* Family formation. The biggest driver of rising income and living standards of American families over the past several decades is the two-paycheck family. Too few African-Americans benefit from that trend: The percentage of married blacks in their 30s plunged from 68% in 1969 to 42% in 1998. (Whites have also experienced a decline in marriage rates across generations, but from considerably higher starting points.)

Moreover, nearly 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock, up from about 25% in the mid-1960s. Any discussion of the class divide that ignores family factors ignores a root cause.

* Gender. Discussing trends in black America also requires separating men and women. From 1974 to 2004, the median income fell 12% for black men while rising 75% for the women. One partial explanation is that twice as many black women as men graduate from college.

Those stark male-female income trends affect family formation: A high-earning woman has little incentive to marry a low-earning man. This suggests sharpening the focus on the plight of African-American boys, particularly those growing up without father figures or positive male role models.

* Education. Achieving middle class status is no guarantee that children will start achieving in school. Studies of well-integrated, middle-class school districts, such as Shaker Heights outside Cleveland, show that parents and teachers have lower expectations of minority students. When that happens, few black students end up being challenged in the advanced classes.

Turning this around is possible. In recent years several middle-class school districts have succeeded in pulling more black students into advanced classes. Overall, however, progress is too slow.

A second problem arises in low-income neighborhoods where teachers devote virtually all their attention to low-performing students, leaving brighter children — those most capable of high achievement later in life — unchallenged. Correcting that requires teacher training and adjustment of academic goals.

* Discrimination. Blacks and whites have sharply different perceptions about the persistence of racial discrimination in U.S. society, Pew found. About two-thirds of blacks say blacks often or almost always face discrimination when applying for a job, renting an apartment or buying a house. By contrast, large majorities of whites believe blacks rarely face bias in these situations. Majorities of both races, however, believe that blacks who don't get ahead have mainly themselves, not discrimination, to blame.

The common thread in determining upward mobility is what social researchers call "stickiness," the social glue that keeps families intact and financially prosperous. Important parts of the formula include health care, good neighborhoods, property ownership, marriage, strong school expectations, saving habits and inherited wealth.

Just as all Americans can take pride in the nation's racial progress and in the achievements of people like Oprah and Tiger, all Americans have a stake in reversing the alarming slide in the black middle class.

The link for this editorial is here.


I'm Just Asking said...

Hey Shane: Interesting on many levels. I'll just pick the education factor for one. According to statistics, I live in the richest predominately African American county in the nation and I'm going to put us on blast Prince George's County, MD! Guess what else? Our school system is one of the worst in the nation. How could that possibly be? The taxes are high, the properties values are outrageous, if I hadn't already lived here before the price boom, I could not afford to move to this county. And why would I want to pay 500K for a house when the local schools suck? But guess what else? If you drive about 10 miles down the road from me, you cross over into predominately white Anne Arundle County and just by crossing the line the schools are all of a sudden some of the best in the nation. WHY? Why aren't we properly educating our kids?

Aaron & Alaine said...

The Pew study simply provides the evidence to back up the arguments of conservative black thinkers that black america needs to be much more concerned and engaged in ensuring strong two parent families, public and community policy that drives REAL improvement in education. Among other things, this really means that blacks must rein in self destructive promiscuous behavior and reinforce the desirability and moral and economic necessity of marriage and strong families for raising children. We also have to wake up to the FACT that large centralized bureaucratic school systems do not serve the needs of urban populations. We should be creating publicly funded charter schools and taking control and responsibility for educational outcomes.

For as much as black america wants to call out discrimination and racism as problems, the dirty little secret is that we can do far more today about education, economic and social outcomes of our people if we change the things WE do that limit our success. The Pew study simply documents the consequences of the bad choices we keep making and there is not a thing in it that comes as a surprise to black conservatives. Its the natural consequence of things we are doing to ourselves.