Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to a new study -- a perplexing finding that analysts say highlights the fragile nature of middle-class life for many African Americans.
Overall, family incomes have risen for both blacks and whites over the past three decades. But in a society where the privileges of class and income most often perpetuate themselves from generation to generation, black Americans have had more difficulty than whites in transmitting those benefits to their children.
Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group.
This troubling picture of black economic evolution is contained in a package of three reports being released today by the Pew Charitable Trusts that test the vitality of the American dream. Using a nationally representative data source that for nearly four decades has tracked people who were children in 1968, researchers attempted to answer two questions: Do Americans generally advance beyond their parents in terms of income? How much is that affected by race and gender?
"We are attempting to broaden the current debate" beyond the growing gap between higher- and lower-income Americans, said John Morton, Pew's managing director for program planning and economic policy. "There is little out there on the question of mobility across generations, and we wanted to examine that."
The data source, called the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, followed 2,367 people from across the country, including 730 African Americans, since 1968. The study participants have been repeatedly interviewed about their economic status through the years, allowing for income comparisons across generations.
The Pew reports found that in many ways the American dream is alive and well. Two out of three Americans are upwardly mobile, meaning they had higher incomes than their parents. About half the time, moving up meant not only that they earned more money than their parents, but also that they were better off in relation to other Americans than their parents were.
- The results don't mesh with the growth in income and growth in the middle class as previously defined in other studies. How can you have that growth of the Black middle class and NOT have overall stability of those who enter?
- Are single family homes and the comparatively lower rate of marriage a factor and if so, how much of a factor?
- From what I remember of statistics, it isn't middle class and above women who are having the out of wedlock births. Am I wrong?
- How does net worth come into play, now, vs. then?
- The prime earning years are the 50s. So, are they comparing the right age groups an income ranges? Meaning, are they comparing the status of parents in their 30s to the status of children in their 30s, comparing the status of parents in their 40s to their children in their 40s, etc?
- Are the comparisons "snap shots" meaning, if there is a dip in income for some reason, and they measure at the dip, how does that affect the outcome of the statistics?
I have to re-read the Pew report and digest the details.