The Brookings Institute, a leading think tank based in Washington D.C., released a study on Aug. 23 on the lack of economic mobility among Blacks, particularly males.
Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow for economic studies and the co-director of the Brookings’ Center for Children and Families, worked on the study, “The Century Gap: Low Economic Mobility for Black Men, 150 Years After the Civil War” with Edward Rodrigue, a senior research assistant. The authors said their research indicates that the economic gap between Blacks and Whites in general is large with the median income for Blacks being $36,898 while for Whites it is $62,950.
“The Black-White income gap obviously has many causes,” the authors said in a statement. “But one that received too little attention is the persistent race gap in rates relative to intergenerational mobility. This mobility gap means that much of the progress towards closing the race gap made by one generation is lost in the next and the result is a century-long delay in economic improvements for Black Americans.”
The authors used the work of William Collins and Marianne Wanamaker in their research that goes back to the 19th century using tools such as census microfilm, World War II draft records and Ancestry.com. They studied linked pairs of fathers and sons from 1880 until the end of the 20th century. The Collins and Wanamaker work culminated in the publication, “Up from Slavery? African American Intergenerational Economic Mobility Since 1880” that showed Black sons have historically been significantly less likely than their White peers from similar economic backgrounds to ascend the income ladder.
More striking, Collins and Wanamaker were able to show that Black sons were less likely than their White peers to enjoy higher-earning jobs than the ones their fathers had, so their incomes were lower, even during the present day.
Reeves and Rodrigue don’t have a hard answer as to why there is this lack of Black male mobility, but they speculate that wealth in the form of homeownership may be part of the answer. However, they note that racism “could well be a big part of the answer.”
“There has been, and remains, systemic racial discrimination in the justice system, housing market, and workplace,” they said.
The authors noted that Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for the possession of marijuana and that affects their employment prospects. They noted that White applicants for a job with a marijuana conviction have a much better chance for a second call back for a job than a Black in a similar situation.
Reeves and Rodrigue also say that local and state governments spend less money on Black and Brown schools than affluent ones and as a result, the schools of color have higher teacher turnover and offer less in extracurricular activities.
“Black Americans are at risk of continuing to lag behind Whites, in terms of economic resources, until and unless we can narrow the gaps in intergenerational mobility; and that means, above all, investments in education and skills,” the authors concluded.