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Census shows incomes rising, marriages declining for blacks in Prince George's

Kris Marsh moved from Los Angeles to Bowie last year and bought a single-family home in a development where many of her neighbors are also single women.
Kris Marsh moved from Los Angeles to Bowie last year and bought a single-family home in a development where many of her neighbors are also single women. (Susan Biddle For The Washington Post)

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By Carol Morello and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 2, 2010

Kris Marsh's household doesn't have two incomes. But in Prince George's County, she is increasingly becoming the face of the black middle class.

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Marsh, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, moved to Bowie last year from Los Angeles, determined to live in a place she had always heard was the promised land for educated, successful African Americans. She bought a large, single-family house in a development where many of her neighbors are also single women.

"I found a community I'm in love with," said Marsh, who has done research on the role that single women are playing in fueling the expansion of the black middle class. "Just because I didn't have a partner or a husband, it wasn't going to prevent me from living in the area."

Prince George's residents personify many demographic and socioeconomic trends playing out among African Americans on a national level. In 2008, about half of the black households in the county made more than $75,000 a year, more than a quarter had four-year college degrees and unmarried women far outnumbered their married counterparts.

New census statistics from data collected in 2007 and 2008 show that an increasing number of African Americans across the country are becoming more like those in Prince George's, as well as closer to the national demographic norm. Many blacks made strides during the past decade, with education levels and incomes rising faster than those of the U.S. population as a whole.

In 2008, 20 percent of African Americans had a bachelor's or advanced degree, a 19 percent jump from 2000. The percentage of black households making more than $75,000 has gone up 42 percent since 1999, from about 13 percent to 18 percent.

The statistics do not reflect the effects of the recession, which has caused high unemployment among black men in particular, but demographers say it is unlikely to alter the long-term trend.

Despite the significant gains made by African Americans, there are still large and persistent disparities between blacks and whites in income, education and poverty rates, the national census numbers show. Whites are twice as likely as blacks to be in the upper-income brackets, and African Americans are three times more likely to be living in poverty.

"There have been improvements, . . . but I know we can do better," said June White Dillard, president of the Prince George's chapter of the NAACP.

Dillard, who was an adjunct professor at Howard University Law School, said the black community has to "reemphasize education."

"You are not going to get a higher income level without a higher education," she said.

Another factor in why household income levels are not higher is that black adults are more likely to be single.

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