Black middle-class families tend to live in neighborhoods with similar median incomes to those of low-income Whites, suggesting that higher incomes do not help African Americans overcome the effects of segregation.

That finding was the result of a recent study published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which details the ways race can function as a predictor of relative neighborhood income.


“Among households with the same annual income, there are sizable racial/ethnic differences in neighborhood income composition,” the study stated in part. “Black middle-class households (with incomes of roughly $55,000–$60,000), for example, are typically located in neighborhoods with median incomes similar to those of very poor White households (those with incomes of roughly $12,000).

“For Hispanic households the disparity is only slightly smaller,” the study continued. “Moreover, even high-income Black and Hispanic households do not achieve neighborhood income parity with similar-income White households.”

The study suggests that some of this difference may be due to the higher overall wealth among Whites, wealth referring to accumulated assets over-time—and even across generations—that enables Whites to do more with the same level of income as non-Whites. Regardless, the study suggests that even at higher incomes, Black and Brown families struggle to escape the impacts of poverty.

“The racial disparities in neighborhood income distributions are particularly troubling because these are differences that are present even among households with the same incomes,” the study stated. If long-term exposure to neighborhood poverty negatively affects child development, educational success, mental health, and adult earnings (and a growing body of research suggests it does, as noted above), then these large racial disparities in exposure to poverty may have long-term consequences.”