Staff Write

Churches should teach Black economics to save our communities (FCN, 10-10-2003)

( – Blacks continue to lose economic ground, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report on economic mobility released Nov. 13. Family income in the Black community is no longer a predicator of children’s later earnings. The report found an alarming number of Blacks born into the middle class are poorer than their parents.

“Looking at economic mobility outcomes by race calls into question whether the American Dream is a reality for Black and White families alike. In every income group, Blacks are less likely than Whites to climb the ladder,” according to the Economic Mobility of Black and White Families report.


“Children from middle-and upper middle-class Black families experience a generational drop in income that is in sharp contrast to the traditional American expectation that each generation will do better than the one that came before it,” wrote report author Julia Issacs, of the Brookings Institute.

While Black children are experiencing some of the income gains all Americans enjoy–63 percent make more today, after inflation, than their parents did–there are dramatic differences between Blacks and Whites at each income level.

The report found that only 31 percent of Black children, born to parents in the middle-income group, have family incomes greater than their parents, compared to 68 percent of White children in the same circumstance.

Further, nearly half (45 percent) of Black children in the middle-income group fall to the bottom of income distribution in one generation, compared to only 16 percent of White children.

For every parental income group, White children are more likely to move ahead of their parents’ economic rank while Black children are more likely to fall behind.

“Much of my research is focused on the challenges faced by low-income Black families, but these data are very disturbing, because they suggest that most middle-income Black families are having difficulty transferring their hard-earned gains to their children,” said Ronald B. Mincy, the Maurice V. Russell Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice at Columbia University and a member of the Economic Mobility Project’s Advisory Board.

“We are hopeful that this report will provoke some serious discussion about what is driving these very troubling findings,” he said.

The nation’s capitol is a prime example of the widening racial economic gap in the midst of unprecedented prosperity for the city. A report from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, DC’s Two Economies: Many Residents Are Falling Behind Despite the City’s Revitalization, examined trends in employment, wages, income, and poverty. The report was issued Oct. 24.

While the number of jobs in the District has grown every year since 1998, the percentage of Blacks who are employed has actually fallen, as has the employment rate among residents with no more than a high school diploma. For both groups, employment rates are near 30-year lows.

“It is surprising–and deeply troubling–that large numbers of D.C. residents are falling behind when so many of the city’s economic indicators are at their best levels in decades,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “The District’s well-known economic disparities are getting even worse.”

Blacks still have the highest official unemployment rate in the country at 8.1 percent, Hispanics at 5.7 percent and Whites at 4.2 percent. Bureau of Labor statistics for October show the unemployment rates remain “statistically unchanged,” but that still represents 300,000 more people on the unemployment rolls. This rise occurred most among the least educated Americans. As overall labor market participation rates rose, vulnerable groups like Black teens and high school dropouts saw their participation rates decrease.

James Hightower puts a face on these statistics. “My friends and I seem to be in the same boat. We can’t get a job. We want to do better but this society won’t let us. It’s a whole lot of men just like me looking, can’t find anything and then we get frustrated,” said Mr. Hightower.

“We have families. We have to eat and live like everybody else. What are we supposed to do? That’s why some people wind up in jail. The only way they can get money is to hustle,” he said.

The Children’s Defense Fund released a report in September that detailed the plight of young men like Mr. Hightower. It is called America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline. The report warns of a national crisis at the intersection of poverty and race. That intersection puts Black boys at a one in three lifetime risk of going to jail and Latino boys at a one in six lifetime risk of the same fate, according to the report.