Sunday, February 2, 2014

Losing the Race 1: Income Disparities

For my first blog post about John McWhorter’s 2000 book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, I’ll use as my starting-point some points that McWhorter makes on pages 9-10.  McWhorter is arguing against the idea that “Most Black People Are Poor“, maintaining instead that “most black people are neither poor nor close to it.”

According to McWhorter, only one-in-five African-Americans lived in ghettos in 1995.  In 1996, 26.4 percent of African-American families were in poverty.  In response to the argument that 41.5 percent of African-American children were in poverty as of 1995, McWhorter states that this is due to the “high birthrate of unwed inner-city mothers.”

McWhorter then addresses the statistic that “In 1995, the median income for black families was $25,970, while the figure for whites was $42,646.”  He states that what is dragging down the median income for African-American families is the “low income of unwed mothers living on welfare”, and that “The median income of black two-parent families is about $41,307, as opposed to about $47,000 for whites.”  McWhorter does not believe that racism is the primary culprit behind lower wages for African-Americans, for 56 percent of African-Americans in 1995 lived in the South, where wages are lower.  McWhorter continues to state that “as often as not today, black two-parent families earn more than whites—-they did in about 130 cities and counties in 1994, and in the mid-90s, their median income was rising faster than whites’ was.”

McWhorter’s references on income are Stephen and Abigail Thermstrong’s 1997 book America in Black and White and John Perazzo’s 1998 book The Myths That Divide Us.  His reference on the child poverty statistics is Orlando Patterson’s 1997 book The Ordeal of Integration.  His reference for his claim that one-in-five African-Americans lived in ghettos in 1995 is the U.S. Census Bureau.

I found pieces of the Thernstrongs' 1997 book on Google Books.  See here.  McWhorter cites pages 196-197 of that.  The book looks conservative, for the Thernstrongs are senior fellows with the Manhattan Institute, which is a conservative think-tank (see here and here).  I don't want to dismiss their argument on account of that, but it is something to keep in mind.  One point that the Thernstrongs make is that the median income for white families is higher than that for African-American families because over 80 percent of white families are headed by married couples, whereas only 47 percent of black families are; this is not necessarily a moral judgment on the Thernstrongs' part, for the reason they give for why many two-parent families make more money is simply that both parents are working, and are thus bringing in two incomes.  The source that the Thernstrongs cite for the median income of African-American and white two-parent families is Money Income for the U.S.: 1995.  I should note that this table also compares African-American and white families headed by single-mothers: the income for whites in 1995 in that case was $22,068, whereas the income for African-Americans was $15,004.

I did a quick Google search to see what later statistics indicate.  This article from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services talks about the findings of the 2010 census, and other statistics.  McWhorter makes the point that 56 percent of African-Americans lived in the South in 1995; the census report that the HHS article cites states that it was 55 percent in 2010.  On economics, the article states: “According to the 2010 Census Bureau report, the average African-American family median income was $39,988 in comparison to $67,892 for non-Hispanic White families. In 2010, the U.S. Census bureau reported that 27.1 percent of African-Americans in comparison to 10.6 percent of non-Hispanic Whites were living at the poverty level. For 2011, the unemployment rate for Blacks was twice that for non-Hispanic Whites (15.8 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively). This finding was consistent for both men and women.”   


Regarding two-parent African-American families, this article, citing 2012 census figures, states that 43.9 percent of African-American families are two-parent, and that the median income for this group is $65,914.  I cannot find what it is for white two-parent families, but for all of the two-parent families in the U.S. it is $76,035.

I'll leave the comments on to get your feedback.  I'm sure there are factors in this post that I have not considered.

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