Unfair Prosperity

Good news: Two out of three Americans fall into the "upwardly mobile" category. According to new research from Pew Charitable Trusts tracking 2,367 nationally representative Americans over the past four decades, this means two-thirds have higher incomes than their parents. More good news: Standard-of-living growth was most evident among low income families; four out of five children born into the bottom 20 percent of wage earners surpassed their parents' income levels.

However, improvements were split along race and gender lines. According to yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth, today nearly 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock and 45 percent of black households are headed by single moms. Downward mobility is a troubling trend among African Americans, with nearly half of black children born into middle class families slipping into the lowest income group within a generation. By comparison, nine in 10 whites were better paid than their parents, and for every $10 of wealth a white person has, blacks have $1, according to Middle Class Dream Eludes African American Families in The Washington Post.

Black men had a median income of $25,600, less than two-thirds that of white men. Black and white women earn comparable median incomes. However, this female equality doesn't translate to family equality: Family income of blacks was only about 58 percent that of whites.

Growth in family incomes was driven by dramatic increases in the number of women, largely white women, entering the workforce. (African-American women have more consistently worked outside the home.) The median annual income for women tripled from 1974 to 2004 (to a whopping measly $20,000).

Also driving income per person is the fact that households have shrunk from 3.1 individuals in 1969 to 2.3 in 1998.

"The growth we've seen in family incomes is because of the increase in women's income," according to the report's author, Julie B. Isaacs of The Brookings Institution. "Without that, we would not have seen an increase because men's earnings have been flat and even declined."

All of this reflects our basic reality: We live in a time of great social and role flux in the United States. Women are working more and earning more. Families are smaller and more likely to be"blended" or headed by single parents. There are more stay-at-home dads. There are more wives outearning husbands. Despite many changes brought about by decades of civil rights activism and feminism, income disparities remain stubborn among men and women and along racial lines. How are you seeing (or not seeing) these dramatic changes play out in your life today versus the life you lived as a child?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  November 19, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Research
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Thanks for the post Leslie. My wife and I both work and have a one-year old. Because we waited to get our careers in order before marrying and having children, we have money to afford certain things. But we don't feel secure in the slightest. My dad was the sole breadwinner who stayed in his last job before retirement for a total of 25 years. I'm 40 and have never worked in any one job more than 5 years. I feel like the whole thing could fall apart at a moment's notice and I could be looking for a job at Borders.

Posted by: bobh1967 | November 19, 2007 7:19 AM

Wow, first time as first. Going to take this as a sign that I am going to have a terrific day. Thanks Leslie!

Posted by: bobh1967 | November 19, 2007 7:20 AM

Sorry, Bob! Better luck tomorrow (the day's essay usually goes up at 7 am or thereabouts). But have a good day anyway!

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 7:30 AM

Hmm, this is very interesting article. On the one hand, it seems as if AA househould median income is lower mainly because they are not as likely to be married (thus two incomes). I also found it interesting that Asians were not mentioned at all in this article. But I don't know how to force or encourage cultural change in the AA community. How do we encourage marriage and family stability? The other big difference is education. This drives the salary differences the most. Education is the key out of poverty. I am not sure it is race as much as education and single headed households. But you would need more in depth studies to see if race is really a factor.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 7:37 AM

I see such a split between my friends who are married and who aren't. For my friends and I who are single, and I might add, mostly childless, we can't work hard enough. It is very difficult to maintain a middle-class lifestyle without two incomes. We make choices we'd rather not at this point in our lives: put up with a roommate, take a second job, go without health insurance or retirement savings in order to pay the mortgage, work sixty-hour weeks for years on end with no vacations. There is no safety net for single childless people beyond the kind I have -- my generous family. In fact, the tax code is punishing toward us. I don't resent what married people have, but I do get tired of working all the time and getting nowhere. It's very disheartening and I have to confess that I've given up a little. I work less than I used to and I live with less, because I'm just too tired to keep pushing when there's nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

Posted by: newcanoes | November 19, 2007 7:52 AM

Why is entitled,"Unfair Prosperity"? The study, if I read it correctly, makes the case that education and stable relationships are the keys to doing better than previous generations. How is this unfair?

Posted by: tuckerjules | November 19, 2007 7:57 AM

Interesting article indeed - tough subject for a short week! Gates, as always, makes a number of excellent points.

From my own personal experiences, I've seen a lot of things that factor into personal success/mobility. Certainly the environment into which you're born plays a big part, and the way you respond to that environment also plays a big part.

The statistics-geek in me came back out when I looked at the Pew Report, though. It's often said that "you can always lie with statistics, just never to a statistician."

That $20,000 median income for women number includes ALL women, whether working or not (it's in a footnote to the table). It's not clear what the number would be if you just included women with full-time jobs, or if you removed women who don't work outside the home.

Similarly, the median income of men is $35,000, but that number includes ALL men whether working or not. And, the median income of men actually DECLINED from $40,000 (adjusted dollars) from 1974 to 2004. That's a disturbing trend.

And like foamgnome I found it interesting that there are no data on Asian-Americans. Perhaps they weren't considered a significant subset of the population when the survey started in 1968, so there are no data to compare. On the other hand, many times Asian-Americans are excluded because they tend to detract from the point that the study author wants to make. For example, one of the computer science professional societies, the ACM, used to publish an annual survey (the "Taulbee survey") of career success among computer scientists. The study always showed that minorities - especially Hispanics and African-Americans - were paid significantly less than whites in the field. But reading the survey would lead you to believe that there is not a single Asian-American computer scientist in the field or in college anywhere in the United States. Since that's nonsensical on its face, some digging was done. It turned out that Asian-Americans were paid significantly more than whites, on average, and so including them in the survey made it possible to erase the focus on underpayment to Hispanics and African-Americans. So the survey leaders simply deemed Asian-Americans to be white for the purpose of the survey! Don't know; perhaps that has been done here or perhaps there really just isn't any data.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 8:06 AM

Ditto tuckerjules... what's "unfair" here?

Posted by: mucus99 | November 19, 2007 8:15 AM

Wow, oeillet, you've completely mystified me with your rant. It sounds like what you really need is a new job/career. (Okay, I apologize if that sounds too snarky; I'm trying to be serious here.)

"It is very difficult to maintain a middle-class lifestyle without two incomes."

If it's hard for you as a single/childless person with nobody other than yourself to support, what about those families with a SAHP? Been there, done that - DW was a SAHM for 7 years. It was a lot easier living on one income as a single person than living on one income as a family of six.
...
"go without health insurance or retirement savings in order to pay the mortgage,"

Okay, now you've completely lost me. You have the choice to have health insurance or not? I don't understand. If you have a job that doesn't provide health benefits, I understand that the out-of-pocket doctor bills can be high. That's what I mean by, find another job/career - find a job that provides health benefits. But I've never had a job that let you opt completely out of health benefits in exchange for extra cash, UNLESS you could prove that you had health benefits from somewhere else. (My current employer provides health benefits. If you opt out, you get I think $1,000. BUT, you can't opt out unless you can prove that you either get healthcare through your spouse, or from some other source - e.g., the retired military folks who get them as part of their retirement.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 8:32 AM

I disagree with the finding that more people are being lifted out of poverty. The only way that can be true is if you define poverty as earning less than 18,000 a year or something like that. Other census figures and surveys show that people are working longer hours and earning less, particularly taking inflation into account. That has been the trend in this country for the last seven years, partly thanks to outsourcing, restructuring etc. Many other surveys and statistics have confirmed that this economy is benefiting those who are already rich. The working poor are too consumed by their long hours low pay situation to defend themselves.

Posted by: skylark1 | November 19, 2007 8:42 AM

Why is there a study about income disparity based on race and why is it titled "Unfair Prosperity"? This type of article, the title and substance, continues to stir discontent amongst American citizens, all races, who are already unhappy about our current state of affairs particularly on the worlds political stage. The percentage numbers should be explained as "pureed" instead of stating them to be facts.
I have not seen any article written lately about being thankful or happy to be a citizen of America but people from other countries are flooding into the U.S. in record numbers. Why is that and what do these foreign people covet about living here that Americans can't or don't want to see? What are the real advantages of American citizenship other than personal rights/freedoms and the pursuit of happiness?

Posted by: lindafranke1952 | November 19, 2007 8:44 AM

oeillet, I can understand your feeling. I'm married but my older brother is single. While I have a house, two cars, and go on vacations, he's scrimping and renting a not-so-nice place with a roommate. I could not have "moved up" if I weren't married. Personally, I have a hard time figuring out how families with one income afford a house. A recent house issue almost wiped out our savings. I can't imagine what would have happened if we were short one income.

Also, my brother lives in DC while I live in NC, so the cost of living is much higher for him. I keep telling him to move down here so he could afford a condo or something, but he loves DC. Go figure.

Posted by: Meesh | November 19, 2007 8:49 AM

"what's "unfair" here?"

How about extended jail sentences for petty, non-violent crimes like crack posession? Historically there has been, and still exist many laws and practices within our government that single out racial differences in our society and leave people of African descent at a disadvantage.

Face it. The justice system in the United States is an unfair system created by white people!

Posted by: GutlessCoward | November 19, 2007 8:51 AM

Meesh:

"Also, my brother lives in DC while I live in NC, so the cost of living is much higher for him. I keep telling him to move down here so he could afford a condo or something, but he loves DC."

Meesh, I suspect the DC vs NC issue is much greater than the single vs married issue.

And on that topic, I have to give a shout-out to my niece. She's 21, single and just bought herself a condo! I think it's a great move on her part.

Okay, she's in Greenville, NC so her 3-bedroom, 2-bath condo cost her $65,000. She had enough money in the bank to make a 20% down payment and get a real, 30-year mortgage. She even got the seller to include all the appliances, furniture, dishes, utensils, etc.

She's in college, majoring in elementary education, and is about a year away from being a teacher. My brother is paying all of her college expenses, but she runs a school's before- and after-care program, plus works at a steakhouse and does some babysitting, so while money will be tight it's feasible.

(This is the older daughter; her parents divorced when she was seven and my brother's had custody of her and her younger sister since she was 12. He apparently taught her right. My brother co-signed the mortgage, and I strongly suspect that if anything were to happen he'd jump in to help. But still, she's giving it a shot.)

So - there's a shout out to a young, single person who's got her head on straight.

But notice also the price she paid for her condo - $65,000 for everything. In any reasonable neighborhood in the DC area, the price would be 5 to 10 times that high.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 9:24 AM

ArmyBrat said: "Wow, oeillet, you've completely mystified me with your rant. It sounds like what you really need is a new job/career. (Okay, I apologize if that sounds too snarky; I'm trying to be serious here.)"

I completely agree. I guess it depends on how you define "a middle-class lifesyle." I was single through the 90s and I had no problem maintaining what I considered to be a middle-class lifestyle. I lived by myself (rented) in a fairly expensive neighborhood in Chicago. I had health insurance (through my employer), took vacations, went out a lot, and still saved for retirement.

I also agree with those who don't understand what is "unfair" about the disparity.

Posted by: dennis5 | November 19, 2007 9:25 AM

@ gutless:

Crack possession may be a nonviolent offense in of itself, but it's hardly minor. Crack is a highly-addictive and highly-potent dopamine agonist, and its use almost inevitably results in catastrophic consequences both to the user and those around them. Maybe you weren't paying attention in the 1980's, but crack basically destroyed the black urban communities that had flourished in american inner cities throughout the 70s. Crack possession is, and ought to be, a very serious crime, with very serious consequences.
And raising the cry of "racism" whenever evidence appears that African-Americans are underperforming relative to other groups in the United States is as unhelpful and irresponsible as it is silly. In the same timeframe, every other ethnic minority in the US has made significant progress toward economic security.
It's far more likely that the reason for the deflated performance of AA families is due to exactly the reason that armybrat came up with. If you're looking at income by family, and males make more than females (possibly due at least in part to the fact that so many women do not work, and therefore bring down the average), then those families without contributing adult male members will not perform as well as those which do. When 40% of african american mothers are unmarried, a very high percentage of AA families are going to have a single (often poorly-educated) female bread-earner. Therefore, they're going to make much, much less than other families. The problem here looks considerably more like black male irresponsibility than racism. But you're welcome to your opinion - god knows people are happier blaming the system than trying to figure out what they're doing to contribute to the problem.

Posted by: gaijinsamurai | November 19, 2007 9:25 AM

My opinion is similar to foamgnome's.

It's my impression that the disparity in AA family income and white family income is because many households have a single income.

While I'm not discounting the role that institutionalized racism plays, I think the solution here lies within the AA community. By strengthening family bonds, making marriage a more appealing option, etc. I wish I knew the answer, but I'm not even sure of the reason. Cultural differences? I would love to hear from someone with experience in this area.

Posted by: Meesh | November 19, 2007 9:34 AM

The problem here looks considerably more like black male irresponsibility than racism.

Posted by: gaijinsamurai | November 19, 2007 09:25 AM

Those black males ought to stop driving while black up and down 95, too. Then they should stop being convicted on bad FBI expert evidence, and they should stop being tried by predominately white juries who routinely find inaccurate eyewitness evidence to be credible. Finally, they should stop being discriminated against by financial institutions and employers. Lazy bums. Off with their heads.

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 9:35 AM

Thanks, ArmyBrat, for the information about adjusted dollars--that was my first question when I read this post. It doesn't matter much if salaries are going up if they aren't keeping pace with inflation. If you just look at our tax statements, my husband and I are doing MUCH better than my parents did, but our combined salaries don't give us nearly the same lifestyle my parents had 30 years ago when they were our ages at at our stage in life. I guess I just don't see the upward mobility.

Posted by: sarahfran | November 19, 2007 9:41 AM

A short history lesson is in order.

After World War II, programs such as the GI Bill, subsidies for first-time home buyers and funding for suburban development enabled the movement of millions into the middle class. However, because of discriminatory practices in their implementation, large scale post-war investment in building the middle class overwhelmingly benefited the white population and proceeded in many cases to the detriment of other groups. Many programs conceived in theory to support all Americans were limited in practice to helping whites find and keep well-paying jobs, achieve economic security and build assets. For example, many African Americans were prevented from taking advantage of the GI Bill because numerous all-white universities denied them admission and African American universities had a very limited number of slots. For another example, low-cost loans for businesses were generally not extended to African American neighborhoods until anti-discrimination policies were enacted in the 1960s and 1970s.

After World War II, many white families moved into secure middle-class status because of significant financial assets built on real estate gains. Most non-whites were unable to share in these gains because of discriminatory practices that initially denied them low-interest government loans and barred them from investing in homes in booming suburban areas. Financial assets are a linchpin of middle-class security--providing a cushion against adversity and also giving the next generation a head start. The lack of assets among nonwhites not only makes it harder for many families to secure a position in the middle class. It also affects the ability of their children, and their children's children, to secure such a position in the coming decades.

Moreover, discriminatory practices still persist in areas directly related to economic opportunity. Many very clear examples are found in the financial services industry. In 2002 qualified African Americans applying for mortgage and refinance loans were more than twice as likely as whites to be rejected--even when comparing individuals of the same income level. Latinos. When it comes to auto loans, African Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to be assessed a finance markup charge by lenders.

see http://www.demos.org/pubs/african_americans_and_latinos_ebook.pdf

African Americans cannot fix problems over which they have no control. Neither should whites pat themselves on the back for pulling up those bootstraps, when those bootstraps have their basis in discriminatory government practices from the 40s through the 70s. The transfer of home equity from the WWII generation to the Boomers to their children enables many whites to weather economic storms and stay in school long enough to obtain lucrative advanced degrees. It's not that we're so great. It's that we have Nana's nestegg greasing the skids of our success.

Posted by: anonfornow | November 19, 2007 9:41 AM

The reason I used "Unfair" in the title is because of the disturbing downward mobility trend in African-American families.

Despite parents' education and income levels that have "lifted them out of poverty" into a solid middle class level, many African-American children born into middle class families are slipping back into poverty. This is unfair and frightening for all Americans, because it seems to suggest that the Holy Grail of education is not a guarantee for the next generation.

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 9:51 AM

"It's that we have Nana's nestegg greasing the skids of our success."

anonfornow, speak for yourself.

My mother saw for herself what it was like for her Mexican-American father and Irish-American mother and their three kids in Denver when she was growing up. She vowed that whatever she'd do, she'd get out of that. She went through the University of Colorado on an academic scholarship in the 50's, worked as a teacher until she met and married my father, and worked almost all of her life as a teacher while moving around the world and raising three kids.

My father grew up in a small mill town in north Louisiana. He saw that life consisted of growing up, working in the mill all your life and then dying in the same small town. He wanted out, so he took what was for him the best way - he joined the Army and made it a career.

Compared to them, I had it pretty good, but I still saw what it was like growing up the child of an NCO and a teacher. Unlike many of my friends, both white and black, in schools, I wasn't interested in partying or becoming an unmarried father or participating in a shotgun wedding or... I put myself through six years of college on academic scholarships and up to three jobs at a time, winding up with three degrees and a secure job with a future. (Okay, it was with the Feds but that's a good starting job.)

"Nana's nest egg?" Bah. How about "desire to get out of a crappy life and willingness to work hard, combined with ability to make it happen."

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 9:54 AM

Wrote a big long post and it got eaten. Anyway, I must have lost the lottery of life. Not inheriting anything significant from my parents. Just grateful that my parents worked and saved and I won't have to put any money out for them. Same with most of my friends. I think anonfornow is over estimating the number of middle class people who are going to gain from inheritance. By the time most of our parents will die, we have already created our middle class lifestyle without their inheritance. Went to college on mostly scholarship as well. Although my parents did throw some cash at us occassionally, we took out student loans, scholarship and worked during school and summers. Had middle class parents too. But that never translated to property or trust funds.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:03 AM

MN, anonfornow - to clarify my points on some of this: I don't think any rational person would deny that some racism still exists in the US. The Jena 6 issue was a good microcosm - the white students who hung nooses weren't expelled because the Superintendent didn't think one stupid mistake should ruin their whole lives. Yet the black students involved in the fight were charged as adults with attempted murder because, heck, it just didn't matter if one stupid mistake - getting involved in a brawl - ruined their whole lives. They were less important - on some level less human - than the white kids. Yes, that racism still does exist.

But it can't be blamed for everything. The high level of out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans can't be blamed on racism - nobody's making them undertake that behavior. The high level of single-mother families can't be blamed on racism, in my opinion - there are too many other factors.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 10:10 AM

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 09:35 AM

Why didn't you just save the electronic ink of your silly rant and just say "blame whitey"?

Posted by: pATRICK | November 19, 2007 10:11 AM

To Armybrat etc: even though the Post decided not to allow my last comment, I will try again. It seems to me that when one pushes marraige as a solution to the low wage problem, one is admitting that it now takes at least two incomes to support even a small family, where it once took only one income. This suggests that wages for ordinary working people of have declined, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. (Typically, those at the top of the income pyramid don't want to acknowledge it. ) What will we do when wages decline even more and two incomes are no longer sufficient? Will we then push bigamy? And what happens to those who can't find a partner?

Posted by: skylark1 | November 19, 2007 10:13 AM

thanks, anon for now. I found that very helpful history. I think most people refuse to look at longer-term historical trends, which often explain current trends.

It's not about inheritance: it's about position. If you grow up in a safe house with food, you start off MUCH better off than someone born into the ghetto. If your parents have books in the house, you start off MUCH better.

Stop patting yourselves on the back because you 'haven't inherited yet'--trust me, you have. Your family had the funds to feed you and clothe you and shelter you and even provide for "extras" like books and educational games. By age 4, you were already "excelling" relative to kids in less generous circumstances.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 10:16 AM

The problem is one of culture. When you have a significant group of dropouts within a group, throw in high out of wedlock births, an ambivalence toward education, a comfort level wth criminality, ANY group will suffer. The good news is that black america is finally starting to say enough is enough. When someone who gets a masters degree is held in higher regard than a running back, you will see real progress happen.

Posted by: pATRICK | November 19, 2007 10:19 AM

"By the time most of our parents will die, we have already created our middle class lifestyle without their inheritance. Went to college on mostly scholarship as well. Although my parents did throw some cash at us occassionally, we took out student loans, scholarship and worked during school and summers. Had middle class parents too. But that never translated to property or trust funds."

I am in pretty much the same position as Foamgnome, but I think it is too easy to say that I did it on my own, without a trust fund from nana. My parents, while they did not directly pay for college or buy my house or give me money, did give me the foundation to be able to achieve these things on my own. I had a stable childhood, a home, food, clothing, and education. I was raised with the idea that education was important and attainable. I had a place to live while I went to college, while I worked summers, and even after college. And I had all these safety nets because my parents, while by no means wealthy, had achieved a middle class lifestyle. Today, they are secure and independent, so I don't have to worry about them financially. So I do believe that I have benefitted from my parents' standard of living, because it has helped me to make gains and improve my own. Without the safety net that they provided me, I don't know whether I could have gone to college and gotten the education that has allowed me to prosper. And I think my son and daughter, if they are smart, will be able to make even more gains from the foundation that my parents laid out for me and that my husband and I are laying out for them, because I have to admit that my family, while not rich, is more prosperous than my parents were when I was a kid. An inheritance does not have to be a trust fund. It can be a secure home, food on the table, and a safety net that allows you to pursue your goals without having to scratch out a subsistence instead. To me, this is even more important than inheriting a trust fund, because it teaches you to work and to fend for yourself, something that a trust fund will never do by itself.

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 10:19 AM

newslink1: The point that Leslie was making is AA children born into the middle class (ie have food, shelter, and books) are now worse off then their non AA peers. So that initial middle class lifestyle is not helping AA at a disportionate rate to non AA. Everyone knows that children of the middle class and above have a better shot of maintaining a middle class lifestyle or better then children born into poverty. How do you explain AA children born into the middle class and not being able to attain the same as non AA in the 80s-to the present. Although I did like anonfornow, historical lesson of the 60s and 70s. Explains AA who couldn't make it into the middle class in that time period but does not explain the downward trend of AA today.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:20 AM

BTW leslie, what the h does unfar prosperity mean. Your explanation is lacking. If middle class black children are not prospering, running straight to racism is lazy (but not unexpected given your political leanings)

Posted by: pATRICK | November 19, 2007 10:22 AM

WOW! Emily somehow hit the nail on the head. The person I most expected the sob story from actually said it the best.

Posted by: pATRICK | November 19, 2007 10:25 AM

I just had a conversation with a friend last night about how we're moving toward a knowledge economy, as labor and manufacturing is being moved overseas. That's bad news for the middle class. The loss of solid union manufacturing jobs (think American autos) was probably responsible for at least some of the fall of AA children. Fortunately there will always be the need for a skilled labor class, and they can make good money. Obviously breaking the cycle of out of wedlock births would greatly increase the chance for some of these children to get an education, but how do you do that?

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 10:25 AM

Emily, I think you missed Leslie's point. She was talking about the downward economic trend of AA children who were born to middle class parents in comparison to their non AA peers who were also born to into the middle class. Clearly, being born into poverty puts you at a disadvantage to a person (of any race) born into the middle class. I haven't looked at these studies in depth. But if that is true, that AA children born of the middle class are disportiantely poor in their adulthood compared to their non AA peers, that is pretty scary. What explains that?

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:26 AM

"The reason I used "Unfair" in the title is because of the disturbing downward mobility trend in African-American families. Despite parents' education and income levels that have "lifted them out of poverty" into a solid middle class level, many African-American children born into middle class families are slipping back into poverty. This is unfair and frightening for all Americans, because it seems to suggest that the Holy Grail of education is not a guarantee for the next generation."

That is neither "unfair" nor frightening nor unexpected if the behavior of the people in question is not conducive to prosperity. Your parents education does not and should not "guarantee" anything! Even if your parents are middle class, YOU still have to work hard in school if you want to get ahead in life. If black kids aren't working hard in school, we should not be surprised or frightened if their incomes suffer as a result.

Posted by: mucus99 | November 19, 2007 10:30 AM

Foamgnome, "Leslie's point" is NOT the central point of the article she references!!!

here are excerpts from the article, which argues that long-term trends in family wealth are FAR better measures of success than current income:

I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I've seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 -- a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.
...
The telltale fact is that the biggest gap in black prosperity isn't in income, but in wealth. According to a study by the economist Edward N. Wolff, the median net worth of non-Hispanic black households in 2004 was only $11,800 -- less than 10 percent that of non-Hispanic white households, $118,300. Perhaps a bold and innovative approach to the problem of black poverty -- one floated during the Civil War but never fully put into practice -- would be to look at ways to turn tenants into homeowners. Sadly, in the wake of the subprime mortgage debacle, an enormous number of houses are being repossessed. But for the black poor, real progress may come only once they have an ownership stake in American society.
People who own property feel a sense of ownership in their future and their society. They study, save, work, strive and vote. And people trapped in a culture of tenancy do not.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 10:31 AM

The reason I used "Unfair" in the title is because of the disturbing downward mobility trend in African-American families.

Despite parents' education and income levels that have "lifted them out of poverty" into a solid middle class level, many African-American children born into middle class families are slipping back into poverty. This is unfair and frightening for all Americans, because it seems to suggest that the Holy Grail of education is not a guarantee for the next generation.

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 09:51 AM

Here is what Leslie wrote herself. Thus gave her the title and the idea for her piece.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:35 AM

newslink: I never said that Leslie's point was the central point of the articles she references. I simply said Leslie wasn't comparing people born in poverty to those not born into poverty.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:40 AM

I understand Leslie's point, Foamy. I do think it is disturbing that the AA middle class is shrinking. But I think that there might be many reasons for it. For one, I think AA who have achieved middle class might have a more tenuous hold on it, because they have had to achieve it without so many of the perks and advantages that whites have historically had (as Anonfornow pointed out). Second, I think since the number of AA who have achieved middle class status is lower than that for whites, there probably is less room for networking and helping each other. Let's face it, we tend to help and network with those who are like us, culturally, economically, etc. If middle class AA have less people who are like them to network with, they might well be at a disadvantage from further gains than whites. It may be that discriminatory practices, cultural biases, and limited opportunities in the end only work against them, rather than working for them, because, in a sense, they are operating in a world that is hostile to their interests. I am not sure what the answer is, but I am not willing to say that discrimination and racism are not a part of it. I think that although blatant discrimination is more and more becoming unacceptable, there are lots of subtleties to it that people don't even recognize yet, since it is so ingrained in our culture.

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 10:40 AM

"Fair" is so silly. It's a trend that merits looking into, but I don't think it has much to do with fairness. Of course education isn't the Holy Grail. It's a tool, and only one of many.

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 10:40 AM

"Obviously breaking the cycle of
out of wedlock births would greatly increase the chance for some of these children to get an education, but how do you do that?"

By pushing an agenda to the impoverished that includes birth control, sterilization, and access to abortion through the school system or other public institution.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | November 19, 2007 10:40 AM

I think they WANT children, though.

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 10:44 AM

Emily, I hear you. I definitely still think racisim is alive and well in our society. But that being in the majority doesn't really translate as the only factor either. Think Asian economic success. There are a lot of variables and as a statistician I can tell you most of the studies are not really slicing and dicing the data in the right way to answer what is truly happening behind the scenes. I am just saying food, shelter, and books is really not the point. Middle class blacks had that as well. I agree with you that it may be more subtle things like networking, which would be hard to quantify.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:45 AM

AND the second article states that 3 out of 4 black Americans are better off than their parents. So focusing on the particular subset of black americans who started off middle-class and then fell into poverty seems to me to be ignoring the far more important fact, which affects far larger numbers of people: wealth builds over generations, and therefore what happened 100 years ago is still very relevant to today's trends.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 10:46 AM

I think there also may be just plain fiscal irresponsibility. They may have had the means to accumulate wealth in their histories, but didn't know how to or didn't care to accumulate it. It is certainly more satisfying, at least in the short term, to spend money than to save it.

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 10:48 AM

newslink1:Not to be rude, but how do you explain Asian americans in the middle to upper middle class today. Most of them did not even have relatives in this country 100 years ago. Nor did they emmigrate to this country with money. I am not trying to be rude. I am just saying that there is a lot behind what is making it less conducive for AA to achieve economic success. Most of which, I am not sure as a statistician you can quantify.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 10:50 AM

I think this makes a difference to me because I work. My mother did not. The kids I knew whose mothers worked, particularly in elementary school were single Moms. I also live in a family that is blessed with material things well beyond my own childhood. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but it did and I didn't say no to it.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do about the unfairness of prosperity. Should I refuse my salary? Should I demand my government require folks to be paid more?

I don't want to go back to a society where women were trapped in marriage or it was a sin to have a child out of wedlock.

Perhaps various ethnic communities put a higher value on living life in a social structure they are happy with than they do on the almighty dollar.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 19, 2007 10:53 AM

Actually, I'd argue that many Asian immigrants came with FAR more wealth than their black American counterparts started off with. My MIL is from China: her father was a general in the Nationalist army, and they left for Taiwan when she was 2. She came to this country as a nurse when she was 18 and spoke no English. BUT, her very wealthy Chinese family has built a network of wealth that extends from Taiwan to this country. If you spend time with Asian immigrants, I think you'll be shocked by the extent to which they leverage their networks to build wealth.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Foamy,
Just curious, what are your thoughts about why Asian Americans are achieving and maintaining wealth? Do you think it is a cultural thing? I may be just going on stereotypes, but I think Asians are culturally more aware of the importance of education. They also seem to be really hard workers, and appear to be able to delay gratification in the pursuit of more important goals.

Hispanics, on the other hand, are really hard workers too, but they seem to live more in the moment, focus less on education, spend their money more freely and save less, thereby accumulating less wealth in the long term. Or at least that's been my experience. I think that cultural influences are huge in determining wealth.

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 11:00 AM

skylark1, I wish I could have seen your original post, because the one that got posted doesn't make any sense to me.

I've never pushed "marriage as the solution to the low wage problem" and in fact I don't understand what that means. Can you please clarify?

What I did say, or at least what I tried to say, in response to oeillet is that wages are wages, and in fact it can be harder to support a family (of six in my case) on one income than it can be to support a single person on one income. Then in response to Meesh's comparison between herself and her brother, I asserted that I believe that the cost of living difference between NC and DC is far more important in ability to purchase a house than is the fact that she and her husband have a combined two incomes while her brother has one. (And gave as an example the fact that my 21-year old, college student, single niece just bought a condo in NC.)

If I said anything else that caused your posting, please let me know what it is so that I can clarify if necessary. Thanks!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 11:06 AM

Wow, post ate another one of my posts. Emily and newslink: I am Asian and an immigrant. I can tell you statistically speaking, the vast amount of Asians do not emmigrate to this country with money or connections to their home country. I think there are several reasons behind Asian economic success. Networking is one. Because regardless of what economic level they come to this country, they network strongly once here. They have a vast lending network and investing network in small private businesses. This probably goes back to cultural issues of thinking of the group rather then the individual. The second, is they are far more educated once they get here. They have latched on to the idea that educating the next generation is key to long term family success. They work hard at school and list it as a top priority (in some ways maybe too much of a priority). I am not sure they work harder then Americans once they attain middle to upper middle class success. My guess is no. But I am not sure that is something we can really quantitfy. They tend to own small businesses at a greater rate. But small privately owned businesses, in general, are very time consuming. I think there are just different cultural attitudes in Asians versus non Asian cultures. As the second and third generation Asians, come into play, we may see a lot of this fall off. But I disagree, statistically speaking, with newslink that the vast majority of Asians come with this incredible financial back ground extending to their home country. I think this is really a small segment of Asian society. Asians have a greater % of college degrees, higher median income, and higher median business income. Regardless of their status coming to this country.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 11:08 AM

Emily's post at 10:19: wow, Emily, just wow! That's one of the best posts I've seen on this or any other blog for a long time. I may not always agree with Emily's viewpoints, but they're always well thought out and well written. I wish all posts were like that!

It goes without saying that I think Emily hit the nail on the head with that post and I agree almost whole-heartedly with it!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 11:09 AM

newslinks wrote: "Your family had the funds to feed you and clothe you and shelter you and even provide for "extras" like books and educational games. By age 4, you were already "excelling" relative to kids in less generous circumstances."

Yes, but blacks do not have ownership rights to the ghetto or poverty or crime. Other minorities also sruggle with those circumstances. Your reasoning would explain why people living in poverty have a hard time succeeding, but not why blacks have a hard time succeeding. It's a shame that this study doesn't address other minorities and their income history. It might help us decipher what's the root of the problem.

Posted by: Meesh | November 19, 2007 11:13 AM

Actually, foamgnome, we don't disagree. Your point is that
"regardless of what economic level they come to this country, they network strongly once here. They have a vast lending network and investing network in small private businesses."

My point was that my MIL's Asian family's network enabled her to build wealth. The process is the same, it's just a question of whether you start out with a family link to it or not. As you rightly point out, Asians tend to be far better at building and joining these networks than other subsets in our society.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 11:17 AM

newlinks: The greater question is why can't AA do the same? I am not sure what the answer is. I still think it goes to the root of Asian culture. You think of the group not the individual. In Vietnamese there isn't even a word for individual. It isn't even a linguistic concept. I just don't think you can encourage or mandate cultural change. If we could, we might be able to help AAs.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 11:20 AM

From the research Paula Penn-Nabrit and I did (Women in Black and White) it's clear that it is quite easy for American whites to live their entire lives without fully understanding how different every aspect of life is for African Americans. As an overwhelming majority population, most Caucasians, including myself, are naive -- without even realizing so.

It would be nice to hear from more African Americans on this blog about the challenges of creating wealth, earning an education, and raising children today. Unless you are black in America, or live in a community that is majority African American, I think it is impossible to discard your prejudices about what it is like to go to school, apply for a job, walk into a hospital, buy a car or get a mortgage if you are black. The only substitute for experience is to ask -- and listen to -- African Americans about what their experiences actually are, instead of hypothesizing about what you imagine life is like for someone of a different race.

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 11:25 AM

Foamy and others whose posts are getting eaten: Can you please send me an email with the date/time the post disappeared so I can get the wpni tech folks on this before it turns into another disaster? Thanks.

leslie@lesliemorgansteiner.com

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 11:26 AM

I think the answer might be mobility. If you think about it, immigrants have already moved thousands of miles from where they were born, and they tend to do far better than the counterparts they left behind. An interesting study could examine how far adults live from their birthplaces and how that relates to their net worth and income.

For example, people who grow up in small towns and stay there tend to be less wealthy than those who move elsewhere. Perhaps being in a new place spurs you to build networks with new people, whereas staying in place encourages you to hang out with the same people you've known your whole life? New people bring different experiences and insights, which may inspire you to behave differently.

So the solution is to encourage people to move far away from everyone they've ever known! (Clearly this has social costs, but it might actually work from a strictly financial point of view.)

As a side note, I'm from Louisiana, and I know several families who are FAR better off having left Louisiana. In their home neighborhoods, they knew the same people and got into the same kinds of problems. Placed in new situations, they respond in a new way. They're also free of their history: "Oh, you're Twon's little brother? You must be a troublemaker too!" no longer applies.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 11:27 AM

The problem here looks considerably more like black male irresponsibility than racism.

Posted by: gaijinsamurai | November 19, 2007 09:25 AM


Why didn't you just save the electronic ink of your silly rant and just say "blame whitey"?

Posted by: pATRICK | November 19, 2007 10:11 AM

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who find blaming "male irresponsibility" and "whitey" for tough, complex sociological issues that refuse to be dumbed down, and those who discuss complex issues with some appreciation for -- duh -- their complexity. Most thoughtful persons, and that would be everyone but gaijinsamurai and pATRICK today, find their understanding of a topic is increased by shedding light on it rather than dumbing it down with slogans.

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 11:34 AM

One cost of prosperity that I see is the rising cost of education -- which we all seem to agree on is a key to prosperity. My dad and his siblings used loans/ROTC scholarships to attain undergraduate and graduate education and were able to pay off loans within 10 years of graduation. My parents financed my education and my dad happily reported to me in September that the loans were done and dusted (again within 10 years). Will this be possible for future generations?

Posted by: tntkate | November 19, 2007 11:34 AM

newslinks: "As a side note, I'm from Louisiana, and I know several families who are FAR better off having left Louisiana. "

As much as I loved the place, I knew early on I had to leave Louisiana, because the education and values systems there were not conducive to the kind of life I wanted to live. Education wasn't perceived as important; teachers (except football coaches) were held in very low regard. High school dropouts could go to work as roustabouts on the offshore oil rigs and make more money than teachers. I was talking to a guy who was bragging that LSU's electrical engineering program had been ranked as the 77th best in the country in some survey. I asked what would happen if the football team were ranked #77. He admitted that it would be considered a disaster; the football coach would be fired and his family likely run out of the state. I asked why it was different with the engineering program; he had no answer.

The culture there just wasn't conducive to "getting ahead."

(Personal aside: Where abouts in LA, if you don't mind my asking? My father grew up in Jackson Parish; I lived in St. Tammany for 9 years before moving away.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | November 19, 2007 11:47 AM

Leslie- You're certainly right on that account. I have NO idea what it's like to be AA, but I certainly try to understand where they're coming from.

This is an ignorant question, but when CAN race be used to make a decision about someone, in an institutionalized way? Car insurance? Certainly not a mortgage?

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 11:49 AM

ArmyBrat:

I was born in Metairie, then we moved to Shreveport, then Baton Rouge. Just before my 8th grade year, we moved to Jackson, MS.

Posted by: newslinks1 | November 19, 2007 11:59 AM

Everyone seems to be tip-toeing around the question of whether African American culture is to blame for the downward mobility of its people. I suspect some people on this board would tend to place more of the blame on AA culture than others; but I don't think that there is denying that popular AA culture at this point in time does play a role. I don't have a problem saying this, and do not think this excuses away the institutionalized racism, the history of oppression and the on-going uphill battle facing AAs today. But the fact is, there are factors within the culture that may minimize the importance of higher education: misogynistic hip-hop, glorification of bling, a much lower percentage of successful black role models in black communities. Combine that with fewer resources, lower expectations, poor media portrayal of black culture, the history of racism and discriminatory practices, etc. etc.

The point is there is no easy answer, and there is no one place to point the blame. There are both internal and external factors. And as a second=generation Latina, I really believe that there are vast differences between the immigrant experience (regardless of nation of origin) and the African-American experience, as far as minority experiences go. It's like comparing apples and oranges, in my mind.

Posted by: JEGS | November 19, 2007 1:24 PM

"But I don't know how to force or encourage cultural change in the AA community. How do we encourage marriage and family stability?"

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 07:37 AM

Who is this "we" who are being asked to presume to "force or encourage change" in the Black community? If foamgnome means "white folk," I submit that we white folk have plenty to do to clean up our own act before telling other folk how to live. Where should I start?

How about the 25% rate of out-of-wedlock births among white children? Most of these kids grow up without fathers.

How about dope use? Does anyone think that the multibillion-dollar illegal drug industry gets all those multi billions of dollars from ghetto kids in Baltimore City who stick people up to get their drug money? The multi billions come from white folk in Hunt Valley and Columbia who are snorting powder and smoking weed when they should be drinking whiskey and smoking tobacco.

How about disloyalty among big employers, most of whom are run by white folk? They offshore whole plants to Red China, not because the Red Chinese can make stuff better, but because they work for $2 a day. An American kid studies, gets a college degree in computer science, and sees his job outsourced to someone in Bangalore making $120 a week. An American kid learns how to build homes or fix roofs, and sees the white bosses hiring illegal aliens to build the homes instead.

How about plain old, out-and-out, anti-Black racism? Someone did a study in Chicago where they sent in employment résumés that had identical education and expeerience, but some of the names were like, "Jacob," and others were like, "Dontay." You can guess what the white employers did with the résumés from the "Dontays."

Don't worry. There are plenty of Black leaders, like D. C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who know what to tell Black folk. What we need are white leaders who will get white folk onto the right track.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | November 19, 2007 1:26 PM

Matt: I was thinking we was the government. I don't think in a free society we can make private sector folks do anything.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 1:33 PM

"Let's face it, we tend to help and network with those who are like us, culturally, economically, etc."

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 10:40 AM

Heh, heh. I was an EEO counselor for fourteen years. What I found is that although there was plenty of plain old stereotyping and prejudice going on, very often what was operating was not racism but cronyism. In one sentence: People tend to promote the people they play golf with, and hire the children of the people they play golf with. Since most of the people that white bosses play golf with are white, it is no surprise that most of the people they hire and promote are white.

Kodak in Rochester had a very successful EEO program simply by ensuring that there was at least one Black member of every panel that made hiring and promotion decisions.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | November 19, 2007 1:39 PM

"This is an ignorant question, but when CAN race be used to make a decision about someone, in an institutionalized way? Car insurance? Certainly not a mortgage?"

Have you ever heard of "redlining." Used to be a practice where lenders and insurance companies drew a red line around areas on a map where they would not do business. And, guess where those areas were? In inner city, and suburban neighborhoods where AAs lived. They don't redline anymore (well not literally, but they still do figuratively). It's not hard to look at a zip code and determine with 80% accuracy who lives there. In addition, there are over "give-aways," e.g., schools attended, names -- wanna bet Shanika Johnson is black?

Posted by: DCNative69 | November 19, 2007 1:46 PM

"Matt: I was thinking we was the government. I don't think in a free society we can make private sector folks do anything."

Posted by: foamgnome | November 19, 2007 01:33 PM

Marvin Olasky looked into records from the 1760's in Maryland and Massachusetts. He found that one in five children was conceived out of wedlock, but only one in fifteen children was born out of wedlock. It wasn't the government that was encouraging four out of five unmarried couples who conceived children to marry before the children were born. True, the government did force the fathers to pay child support -- the old courthouse records show that. But mostly it was the private sector, namely, both parties' families as well as employers who would hire the new, young father as an apprentice or farm hand so that he could support his new wife and child.

This kind of thing went on not only in the 1760's, but as late as the early 1960's. The private sector encouraged marriage and jobs once, which means it can encourage marriage and jobs again. It's a matter of forgoing lust (sexual freedom) and greed (economic freedom) in the name of a better life for the children who are America's future. This is something the American people have to decide to do (after seeing the consequences of not doing it). Government, which is just a reflection of our own preferences, won't do it for us.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | November 19, 2007 1:55 PM

"For example, people who grow up in small towns and stay there tend to be less wealthy than those who move elsewhere. Perhaps being in a new place spurs you to build networks with new people, whereas staying in place encourages you to hang out with the same people you've known your whole life? New people bring different experiences and insights, which may inspire you to behave differently."

Actually, I was thinking the other way around: maybe the personal characteristics that would lead someone to take a chance and leave everything he knows for a better opporunity halfway around the globe are the same personal characteristics that ultimately lead to success in business.

I also like the earlier posts about the network -- not just about the "connection" part of it, but about access to capital. If an Asian immigrant arrives and wants to open a shop, there is a built-in network to make the loan. A lot of Muslim immigrants are doing the same. But there is no AA banking network for small business loans. So that leaves you with the standard American banking system, which typically considers a new, unproven small business to be way too much of a risk.

Of course, there's always a home equity loan -- but many AA families were redlined out of homeownership for decades. And then there's the personal guarantee -- but those pesky creditors tend to want hard assets to back up the signature. And when you start off making less money (thanks to all those folks who hired Jason instead), pay more in interest and fees on your car note, and all of that, it shouldn't be that surprising that there may not be enough assets to satisfy the banks.

It's not that it's easy for anyone. And there are a multitude of other factors that play into this. But I do think there are some institutional deficiencies that make it harder for AAs with the same energy and desire as some more recent immigrant groups to get the capital to go build a business. And that's still the surest way to wealth in this country (it ain't called "capitalism" for nothing).

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2007 1:57 PM

Maryland Mother, How are you doing these days?

Posted by: mehitabel | November 19, 2007 2:11 PM

Matt- But that implies that the pregnancies were unintended. It's much more complicated when unwed teenaged girls want to have babies and the sperm donors want to have sex. The whole system breaks down when there's no intention of getting married and raising kids together.

I hadn't heard of redlining, but it makes sense. I wonder if some of the restrictive interest rates, etc aren't just a consequence of horrendous credit. I know plenty of white people who have ruined their credit and are surprised at how hard that can make life. I think that's just an indication that people need to be educated about fiscal realities.

Posted by: atb2 | November 19, 2007 2:25 PM

This is unfair and frightening for all Americans, because it seems to suggest that the Holy Grail of education is not a guarantee for the next generation.

Posted by: leslie4 | November 19, 2007 09:51 AM

Leslie, Education has been oversold, generally, and, in particular, the theory that all bachelors, masters, and advanced degrees have equal value in the job marketplace has done a grave disservice to Xers and Millenials. Cronyism controls the vast majority of jobs and promotions. The idea that "if you want it bad enough, you'll achieve your dream" has induced millions to go into debt to obtain a Bachelors in English degree from a third-tier school. When Millenials wake up and realize they can't necessarily be the next editor of the Washington Post, even with that degree, they are disillusioned.

Maybe it's time to revert to telling the truth. A bachelors degree is a minimum requirement, not a door opener. An advanced degree lowers the competition exponentially but, the number of jobs in which you can put those degrees to use are similarly exponentially fewer in number. There are many people in the bottom half of each MBA and Law class who suffer under crushing debt with no way to repay it because, in this job market, they are indistinguishable from their 3.0 GPA peers. Connections matter even more than performance. If there was anyone over 30 who thought that education was the Holy Grail, they need to wake up, look at hiring patterns, and listen to the employment experiences of those who've obtained degrees since 1995 -- not be frightened.

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 2:47 PM

I have to agree with mn.188. But maybe if we hadn't let so many degreed immigrants into this country, degrees would have more value in the job market and the prospects for US citizens of all colors would be a little bit better?

Posted by: skylark1 | November 19, 2007 3:17 PM

"But maybe if we hadn't let so many degreed immigrants into this country, degrees would have more value in the job market and the prospects for US citizens of all colors would be a little bit better?"

I find that statement to be ridiculous. First, immigrants with low (or nonexistent) levels of education are blamed for bringing down wages in menial jobs that Americans won't stoop to take. Then those who do have some education are blamed for competing with Americans in higher level jobs and somehow devaluing the significance of the educations that Americans seem to get. Somehow, it's all someone else' fault, isn't it? Education, of course, would be worth something to America if all those dang immmigrants stayed where they ought to be: poor and ignorant.

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 3:29 PM

"But maybe if we hadn't let so many degreed immigrants into this country, degrees would have more value in the job market and the prospects for US citizens of all colors would be a little bit better?"

If you stopped the H-1B visa program tomorrow, you'd see no increase in the employment prospects for a US citizen with a bachelors degree in women's studies from South Dakota Baptist Women's College and a 2.7 GPA, NTTAWWT. If you think otherwise, you need to talk to a few college placement directors. There is a reason that parents of Asian and Middle East extraction push their kids into engineering and business classes. Certain degrees from the top programs, but not all or even most, offer close to guaranteed employment at a decent pay rate. Others do not. If you or your daddy have connections, the distinction doesn't matter. If you don't, it does. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 3:44 PM

oh, and Emily, your comment was spot on.

Posted by: mn.188 | November 19, 2007 3:49 PM

Sorry to be dense, mn.188. I can't seem to figure out NTTAWWT. Please define. Thanks!

Posted by: lsturt | November 19, 2007 3:55 PM

Sorry again--it's just the WWT I can't figure out. Thanks again!

Posted by: lsturt | November 19, 2007 3:56 PM

But how many spots are available in the top programs? And if a degree from a medium tier university doesn't guarantee decent employment, what in your opinion, are people to do, since obviously the top spots are very limited? And even a mediocre Masters degree is expensive?

Posted by: skylark1 | November 19, 2007 3:57 PM

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

MN has a good point, as usual. And it's frequently not that there are only so many spots at the top schools. It's that a fairly large portion of the middle class has been trained to believe that education, in and of itself, is the Holy Grail -- get any degree from any school, and you're primed for permanent employment. I know that's how I was raised (by, ummm, college profs -- true believers if there ever were such a thing). And it worked great for me; even though I chose a general degree (English), I did well enough to get into law school, and did well enough there to get a job. I was smart, yes, but dang lucky, too.

But the problem is when getting that great education becomes the be-all and end-all, worth any price, any sacrifice, because in the end It Will All Pay Off. Because sometimes it doesn't. So you find yourself in the position of my old college roommate: she and her husband were going to graduate from Harvard grad schools with $120K in loans -- he from the Seminary, she with a Ph.D in religious studies. A great education, I'm sure; but not exactly a high-paying field that will enable them to earn that money back.

I see education as necessary but not sufficient. A good education definitely gives you a better crack at opportunities -- but you can't just blindly believe that since you graduated from X school, the world is going to be handed to you. As much as I am a fan of a good liberal arts education, you also have to look at it with an eye for business -- what is going to make your marketable? what's the most cost-effective way to get your degree? and is your degree really in anything anyone will want to hire? And even once you graduate, you need to keep your skills up to date, learn how your business works, ensure that you are ready for the next big change to come down the pike. Because it's already coming; we just don't know what it is yet.

Posted by: laura33 | November 19, 2007 4:13 PM

I don't think a college degree is a guarantee of anything anymore. It is, as MN said, a minimum requirement, like high school used to be. You can get out of college these days with almost no practical training or experience that is useful in the workplace. Back when I went to college, at the particular college that I attended, a liberal arts degree was touted as a degree that taught you how to think critically, how to tackle a problem, dissect it, analyze it, write about it, and ultimately of course, solve it. The idea was that even a degree in English (which I have) would be useful because it would give you the requisite skills to think about and write about almost anything. I did find that it was incredibly useful to know how to write, but without some more technical training, it was hard to translate those writing skills into a paycheck. So I got the technical training, and voila, a good job came through, and after that, a better one, and so on. Still, the English degree while very useful, was no guarantee by itself of success. It was a great start and a steppingstone, however. But I also credit the caliber of that English degree, which came from a very respected college with a great liberal arts reputation. It was not South Dakota Baptist Women's College and I did not have a 2.7 GPA (NTTAWWT). I do think that the college's ranking or reputation matters.

I sometimes think that the idea that everyone needs a college degree, or that a college education is a minimum requirement for career success, is actually harmful to a lot of people these days, especially the ones who go into careers where a 4-year degree is not actually required. I think there are a lot of technical programs out there that do a better job of preparing people for specific careers than a college degree would, and that it is a shame that many people are wasting money on useless 4 year degrees in basketweaving and other assorted fluff rather than getting real and practical training in areas that would actually give them specific skills that are applicable in real jobs.

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 4:13 PM

Thanks, Laura! It's so obvious now. :)

Posted by: lsturt | November 19, 2007 4:30 PM


I am married AA woman, my husband and I are both financially better off than our respective middle class parents. I would agree that the explanation for incomes for the AA middle class declining is very complicated, some of the reasons are systemic problems in our society and some of it's cultural. Lack of networks and less wealth are key factors. My success in life has largely come from attending good schools, meeting the right people, etc. Many parents were not able to give their children the same opportunities as a previous poster said, because of the relatively smaller numbers. I didn't go to a historically black college, but one of the reasons that you see so much success from people who have, is that networking. Wealth is another issue--and not just as some posters have intimated, because people spent money on frivolous things. If you are a first generation middle class person, and you are responsible for helping your parents and perhaps other siblings, you many have more difficulty accumulating wealth. Only a small percentage of AA families have been middle class for more than one or two generations. Part discrimination has had an impact on the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, people are often too quick to dismiss the issues of the past-- it is in my parents' lifetime that AA experienced state sponsored discrimination-- most of the "Little Rock Nine" are still alive. While there are many choices that people make in life that contribute to poverty (using drugs, out of wedlock births) and using discrimination as excuse is not productive, it is important that Americans understand their own history to perhaps have a little less judgment and have a little more compassion for other Americans.

Posted by: chicki | November 19, 2007 4:40 PM

We've had a couple of posts that have brought up culture as a detriment to advancement and success and I think that could be a significant breakthrough for any group. Why perpetuate the stereotype? I have been told that AA parents want their children to have "unique" names so that they will stand out from their peers. But yet, even on this board, we have derided names like "Shaniqua Chauntelle" and mentioned that those "resumes" are handled differently. The same goes with dialects and physical presentation. Can someone tell me why a person who does not want to be labelled a thug would dress as one? Why would someone who doesn't want their child discriminated against use a unique name, which automatically registers to the average person as an ethnicity? I'm not saying they should be singled out, but rather why are the parents promoting it? Why would someone who is having trouble paying the rent and utilities go out and buy a $400 x-box and $70 game cartidges?

If you feel you aren't getting a job because of your name, change it. If you feel you aren't being taken seriously because of your accent or dialect, change that aspect of your speech. I am from the South and used to use swear words in every other sentence. I did not start moving foward in life until I stopped sounding like a hillbilly and cleaned up my mouth. I'll be the first to admit that I had some other advantages because of my parental heritage, but I struggled with menial labor and low-paying jobs as others have.

I view successful athletes who speak clearly and succinctly differently from those who speak with urban slang and poor English, regardless of the color of their skin or the do in their hair. Goodness knows, my English is not perfect. Act like the person you want to become and it is a lot easier to get there.

That is a portion of the "culture" that holds many people back from achieving a higher standard of income.

Posted by: WorkingDad | November 19, 2007 6:13 PM

"I was raised with the idea that education was important and attainable. "

Posted by: Emily | November 19, 2007 10:19 AM

I think this comment by Emily is key. My parents divorced when I was 2 months, and my youngest sister and I were raised by my grandmother as a single parent - my grandfather died when I was two. I have six siblings, five of whom were raised by our father as a single parent, and of us only my sister and I graduated college.

I now am probably earning more than double what my father earns and can fully support my husband and two children. My sister's husband works part-time to stay with the children more while supplementing his wife's income.

The key difference for us? We were raised in a household with a woman who was pursueing a PhD from a long-distance college program. We both did Running Start to get two free years of community college (WA state program for high school students) and then got loans, scholarships, grants, etc. plus student jobs to graduate from four-year colleges. My sister had a baby at age 19 (as a single mother, technically - although the father was present, they didn't marry) and still graduated with a BA at the age of 21 (with the help of her boyfriend, who was a responsible father).

We knew that difficult education goals were still achievable, and always just assumed that we would go to college. So we did. We both needed some government aid, both for graduation and WIC with our early families, but we will be more than paying that back in taxes on our higher-education incomes during the next thirty-plus years of our careers.

Having said that, college was still harder for both of us that it was for our friends from middle-class families.

Posted by: ethele | November 20, 2007 2:47 PM

I'm not sure it was made clear that redlining was aimed at most inner cities which weren't always African American at that time.

Residents both white and black were denied bank loans to improve inner city properties or to buy properties. Instead banks preferred to lend money to buy in the new growing suburbs.

The reason it had a larger impact on the AA community was because of discrimination in those new suburbs. The Levittowns had pretty strict racial policies. So when whites were hit with redlining they could move out; African Americans were pretty much stuck.

And let's not forget block busting. There are parts of NE DC which shifted from white to black within five years.

Which means that AA families who had bought property at higher values also saw that property devalued based on starvation of credit for improvements & block busting so real estate companies could make easy money in the suburbs.

I'm not black. But I am a native Washingtonian and white - and I have to tell you - It's always been a class/culture issue. White America hasn't seen this because they've always treated all black people as if they were poor. College educated, middle class, working class - all African Americans have been assumed to be poor. Until civil rights, white Americans wouldn't hire them, they treated them as if they were bad credit risks regardless of their history or education, they assumed all African Americans are a criminal risk.

And because, it makes us feel better, poverty has a black face in this country.

But poverty and the culture of poverty is the real problem. White, black, poor people have self defeating behaviors.

Poor people aren't always stupid - but they're usually pessimistic. You save and save and save and something bad happens and you're behind again. (The plant closes, new immigrants drop the wages, etc.) You buy a house and the neighborhood gets redlined. You try and help your brother's kids, your sister's husband loses his job, you don't have the resources to take a blow that the solid middle class has. So you do stupid things and stupid things make it worse and how did that happen?

Education works - over the long term. Scrimping and saving works - over the long term. Getting married, and being in stable jobs works - over the long term. Most poor people don't believe in the long term. They believe it's a sucker's game. And until you can teach that to the next generation, a lot of middle class kids both white and black will be slipping into a lower class.

Posted by: brcollins42 | November 21, 2007 6:36 PM

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