Uncertain Future for African American Progress

Science Blog, Aug. 27

While important gains have been made during the past decade, African Americans still have a long way to go to achieve equality in America, according to a new report from UCLA. While the 1960s through the 1980s were characterized with gains in civil rights, data from the decade of the 1990s indicates that the struggle has become increasingly economic in nature, according to the study.

From UCLA:

UCLA Study Projects Uncertain Future for African American Progress Despite Past Gains

While important gains have been made during the past decade, African Americans still have a long way to go to achieve equality in America, according to a new report by UCLA professor Michael Stoll. While the 1960s through the 1980s were characterized with gains in civil rights, data from the decade of the 1990s indicates that the struggle has become increasingly economic in nature, according to Stoll.

The report, ‘‘African Americans and the Color Line,’’ is part of ‘‘The American People’’ series published by the New York-based Russell Sage Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C.

Based primarily on Census 2000 data and other current data sources, Stoll’s research focuses primarily on African Americans’ absolute and relative gains during the 1990s in employment, earnings, family income, poverty reduction and wealth. The report advances the continuing discussion of African Americans’ economic and social progress and examines whether they have continued to make gains from 1990 to 2000, relative to whites.

Stoll, an associate professor of policy studies at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research and associate director of the Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, notes that ‘‘understanding whether the racial divide between blacks and whites is closing is important, precisely because of the historically significant role of slavery, legalized segregation and black?white conflict. But when viewed in this light, the degree of racial progress observed over the 1990s was limited.’’

Report topics include population change and growth, rising educational attainment, uneven employment changes, modest earnings gains, rising family income, falling poverty, limited gains in wealth accumulation, and growing stability in family structure. The report also covers changing residential location patterns, persistent residential segregation, racial segregation and economic opportunity, and the rapid growth of incarceration for African Americans.

The report’s final section, ‘‘The Color Line’s Uncertain Future,’’ points out that—despite signs of ‘‘unambiguous progress’’—‘‘many other measures inched along, stalled or reversed.’’

Among the most notable findings of the research:

—Residential segregation between blacks and whites declined only modestly over the past decade, and was not as significant as that between blacks and other racial minorities.

—Blacks’ proximity to areas with greater economic opportunity increased only slightly during this period.

—Employment and wages improved very little relative to whites over the study period, despite the economic boom of the late 1990s.

—The employment rate for young black men fell in absolute terms.

—African American wealth grew very little, while wealth for whites grew markedly over the 1990s economic boom.

—From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of black men in prison doubled.

‘‘While understanding whether blacks made absolute gains is important for assessing the degree of racial progress in America, understanding whether the racial divide is closing is equally important,’’ Stoll said.

He predicts that persistent racial discrimination against African Americans in labor, housing, and credit markets, and a more limited federal government role will continue to limit African American progress in the next decade.

Stoll also reports that the economic downturn that began in early 2000 is likely to have erased many of the labor market gains made by African Americans over the 1990s, even resulting in losses when compared to whites.

An excerpt of the report may be found online at www.prb.org/americanpeople. To see the complete report, contact Ellen Carnevale at the Population Reference Bureau by phone at (202) 939-5407 or via e-mail at [email protected] More information on ‘‘The American People’’ series may be found at www.russellsage.org/ or www.prb.org

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