These ten charts show the black-white economic gap hasn’t budged in 50 years

August 28, 2013

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, we're updating our look at how the economic disparities between whites and blacks have persisted over the past half-century.

My colleague Michael A. Fletcher published a big piece Wednesday noting that the United States hasn't made much progress in closing the economic chasm between blacks and whites since the March on Washington 50 years ago.

"Even as racial barriers have been toppled and the nation has grown wealthier and better educated," Fletcher writes, "the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963."

It's an excellent story, worth reading in full. It's also worth charting.

1) The black unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for 50 years:

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes that this gap hasn't closed at all since 1963. Back then, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks. Today, it's 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks.

2) For the past 50 years, black unemployment has been well above recession levels:

"Indeed," notes EPI, "black America is nearly always facing an employment situation that would be labeled a particularly severe recession if it characterized the entire labor force. From 1963 to 2012, the ... annual black unemployment rate averaged 11.6 percent. This was... higher than the average annual national unemployment rate during the recessions in this period — 6.7 percent."

3) The gap in household income between blacks and whites hasn't narrowed in the last 50 years:

This chart comes from a recent Census report on income and poverty. Note that just about everyone's seen a decline in real household income since 1999.

4) In fact, the wealth disparity between whites and blacks grew even wider during the Great Recession.

"The wealth gap between minorities and whites has not improved over the past three decades," reports the Urban Institute. "From 1983 to 2010, average family wealth for whites has been about six times that of blacks and Hispanics — the gap in actual dollars growing as average wealth increased for both groups." And the Great Recession exacerbated that gap, as blacks and Hispanics were hit especially hard.

5) The black poverty rate is no longer declining:

Black poverty fell quickly between 1959 and 1969, from 55.1 percent to 32.2 percent. But after that, the drop was slower and more uneven. In 2011, 27.6 percent of black households were in poverty — nearly triple the poverty rate for whites.

6) Black children are far more likely than whites to live in areas of concentrated poverty:

"Arrested progress in the fight against poverty and residential segregation has helped concentrate many African Americans in some of the least desirable housing in some of the lowest-resourced communities in America," the EPI report notes.

And those poorer neighborhoods have a way of perpetuating inequality, the report points out: "Poor black neighborhoods also have environmental hazards that impact health. A very serious one is higher exposure to lead, which impedes learning, lowers earnings, and heightens crime rates. While rates of lead exposure have been declining for all races, African American children continue to have the highest exposure rate."

7) Our schools are more segregated today than in 1980

"Although the share of black children in segregated schools had dropped to 62.9 percent by the early 1980s, the subsequent lack of commitment by the federal government and multiple Supreme Court decisions antagonistic to school desegregation have led to a reversal," notes EPI.

Why does that matter? "Promoting school integration is important because — now as a half century ago — segregated schools are unequal schools," the report adds. "The more nonwhite students a school has, the fewer resources it has. A 10 percentage-point increase in the share of nonwhite students in a school is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending."

8) The marriage gap has widened over the past 50 years:

This data comes from Pew: "Marriage rates have fallen for all groups since the 1960s, but more sharply for blacks than for whites. In 1960, 74% of white adults were married, as were 61% of black adults... By 2011, the black marriage rate had fallen to 56% that of the white rate: 55% of whites were married, compared with 31% of blacks."

Relatedly, the Census recently reported that 52.1 percent of black children are living in single-parent homes, versus just 19.9 percent of white children:

Why does any of this matter? Here's Pew: "Marriage is considered an indicator of well-being in part because married adults are economically better off, although that may reflect the greater propensity of affluent adults to marry."

9) Blacks are still far more likely to be uninsured than whites. That's true for both adults and children:

The chart above comes from a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which notes that the Affordable Care Act could shrink the gap: "The large majority of uninsured people of color have incomes that would qualify for the ACA Medicaid expansion or premium tax credits for exchange coverage." That said, a lot depends on how many states decide to expand Medicaid coverage under the new law.

10) The racial disparity in incarceration rates is bigger than it was in the 1960s:

From Pew: "The incarceration rate of black men is more than six times higher than that of white men, slightly larger than the gap in 1960."

Further reading: 

-- 50 years after the March on Washington, the jobs and wealth gaps persist

-- Richard Reeves offers some useful data on social mobility. One striking stat: "Black children are more likely to be born into poverty than white children; but they are also less likely to escape."

-- Jared Bernstein makes the case that full-employment policies are a good way to close the gap.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Ezra Klein · August 28, 2013