WASHINGTON – Decades after the civil rights movement, the income gap between black and white families has grown, says a new study that tracked the incomes of some 2,300 families for more than 30 years.
Incomes have increased among both black and white families in the past three decades – mainly because more women are in the work force. But the increase was greater among whites, according to the study being released today.
One reason for the growing disparity: Incomes among black men have actually declined in the past three decades, when adjusted for inflation. They were offset only by gains among black women.
“Overall, incomes are going up. But not all children are benefiting equally from the American dream,” said Julia Isaacs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
Isaacs wrote a series of three reports that looked at the incomes of parents in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and of their grown children 30 years later. Isaacs compared the incomes of parents who were in their 30s with the incomes of their children, once they reached the same age group.
Grown black children were just as likely as whites to have higher incomes than their parents. However, incomes among whites increased more than those of their black counterparts.
The result: In 2004, a typical black family had an income that was only 58 percent of a typical white family’s. In 1974, median black incomes were 63 percent those of whites.
“Too many Americans, whites and even some blacks, think that the playing field has indeed leveled,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
It has not, he added.
Morial blamed the disparities on inadequate schools in black neighborhoods, workplace discrimination and too many black families with only one parent.
On a positive note, black children from poor families were much more likely to grow up to have higher incomes than their parents, Isaacs said.
Isaacs compiled the reports for the Economic Mobility Project, a collaboration of senior economists and researchers from four Washington think tanks that span the ideological spectrum. The project is funded and managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Isaacs used survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is conducted at the University of Michigan.