Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, September 6, 2011
Nearly one in three Americans who grew up middle-class has slipped down the income ladder as an adult, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Downward mobility is most common among middle-class people who are divorced or separated from their spouses, did not attend college, scored poorly on standardized tests, or used hard drugs, the report says.
Overall, African American men have a particularly hard time clinging to middle-class status. Thirty-eight percent of black men who grew up middle-class are downwardly mobile, nearly double the rate of white men, the report says. Hispanic men are slightly more likely than white males to fall down the economic ladder, but the difference was not statistically significant.
The racial gap in mobility has perplexed researchers at Pew since a 2007 report that said nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults. That report underscored the feeble grip many African Americans had on middle-class life, prompting researchers to probe deeper, said Erin Currier, project manager of Pew’s Economic Mobility Project.
The new report called the performance of blacks on a key standardized test a factor that accounts for virtually the entire mobility gap separating the races. Black males scored much lower than white males on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which measures reading comprehension, vocabulary and math ability.
“Taking into account differences in AFQT scores between middle-class white and black men reduces the gap until it is statistically indistinguishable from zero,” the report said.