In The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood, researchers from Johns Hopkins University document the way racism continues to have a dramatic impact on the life outcomes of poor Blacks when compared to their low-income White counterparts.

The book’s three authors, Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson, tracked almost 800 children for over 25 years. Of those approximately 800 children, about half came from low-income families. Of the low-income group, 40 percent were White.

In an opinion piece published on, Alexander and Olson explain that while almost none of the low-income children finished college, regardless of race, the difference in life outcomes between Blacks and Whites was significant. “At every age,” wrote Alexander and Olson, “the White men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more. . . . As young adults, African-American men had fared much worse than Whites in the job market, even though they and their White counterparts had about the same levels of education and the Whites reported higher rates of marijuana and heavy drug use, and binge drinking.”

By age 28, half of the non-college educated White men were employed in industrial or construction jobs, while only 15 percent of the African-American men were similarly employed. Even employed, the African-American men had a severe earnings disadvantage relative to their White counterparts, with annual earnings of $21,500 compared to the $43,000 a year enjoyed by Whites.

According to Alexander and Olson, colorblind policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit are ineffective at addressing racial disparities, since they only apply to those who already have jobs and have no effect on the racially driven unemployment rate among African-Americans.

“Now is the time for our leaders to recognize that race matters and develop creative programs, such as President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, to address the different challenges facing poor African-Americans,” conclude Alexander and Olson about the need for targeted policy action.

Roberto Alejandro

Special to the AFRO