How Black Middle-Class Kids Become Poor Adults

Gillian B. White, The Atlantic, February 9, 2015

{snip} But perhaps what’s most unsettling about the current economic climate in black America is that when black families attain middle-class status, the likelihood that their children will remain there, or do better, isn’t high.

“Even black Americans who make it to the middle class are likely to see their kids fall down the ladder,” writes Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In a recent blog post Reeves says that seven of 10 black children who are born to families with income that falls in the middle quintile of the spectrum will find themselves with income that’s one to two quintiles below their parents’ during their own adulthood.

A 2014 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which looked at factors such as parental income, education, and family structure, shows a similar pattern: Many black Americans not only fail to move up, but also show an increased likelihood of backsliding. According to the study, “In recent decades, blacks have experienced substantially less upward intergenerational mobility and substantially more downward intergenerational mobility than whites.”

The greater probability of slipping back applies to blacks across income groups. According to the Fed study, about 60 percent of black children whose parents had income that fell into the top 50 percent of the distribution saw their own income fall into the bottom half during adulthood. This type of downward slide was common for only 36 percent of white children.

But the gap in mobility was significant for lower-class families as well. “For most of the bottom half of the income distribution, the racial differences in upward mobility are consistently between 20 and 30 percent,” writes senior economist Bhashkar Mazumder, the study’s author. “If future generations of white and black Americans experience the same rates of intergenerational mobility as these cohorts, we should expect to see that blacks on average would not make any relative progress.”



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  • Atheist Realist

    i doubt regression to the mean is really that big a factor. Maybe its that the parents became middle class through noncognitive means

    • APaige

      Affirmative Action benefits are not hereditary.

      • TheAntidote

        Bada bing, bada boom.

      • a1781054

        “Affirmative Action benefits are not hereditary.”

        They kind of are.

  • Regression to the mean is probably the best explanation.

    But a lesser but still somewhat valid factor is that many “black Americans who make it to the middle class” do so while riding on the back of affirmative action, quotas and set asides, so they didn’t necessarily make it to the middle class because they deserved it.

    • You forgot the faux, make-work government jobs that so many totally unqualified “middle class” blacks occupy. These aren’t real jobs. They’re paid daycare for adults: welfare in disguise.

      • TomIron361

        Exactly, even prison is welfare in disguise when you think about it.

        • Speedy Steve

          Early retirement.

      • phillyguy

        It’s more than welfare in disguise, when they retire not only do they receive Social Security but they get a nice hefty pension.

      • A Freespeechzone

        It’s only a matter time before these faux, make-work government jobs go to illegals as a form of ‘payback’—and as illegals overtake the population, negroes will be cut out of ‘affirmative action’.

        • benvad

          That’s not so because I believe Whites will lose or be ignored for positions blacks will get hired and foreigners will get ahead at the expense of Americans.

        • Sheik Yerbouti

          As the Hispanic wave continues, black Americans are being pushed to the bottom where they will remain forever. As Hispanic people become a larger voting block, they will win elections and disassemble any program favoring blacks exclusively and distribute it.

          Only the most exceptional blacks will be able to make the broad jump across the massive Hispanic canyon forming in the media and entertainment industries as this happens. Sidling up to whites will only happen for blacks at the present day lower middle class level at best. A huge Hispanic wedge is being installed.

          Nobody feels sorry for them and some of them see what’s happening. I wonder if voting for a guy’s color has sunk in yet? I wonder if they realize just how screwed they are?

      • AmericanCitizen

        We’re only seeing the beginning of this upcoming problem. When you have too many affirmative action hires all incompetent – who’s going to handle a minor crisis? Be on the lookout for news stories about sudden city blackouts that last a few days, or a water system foulup, because the people holding supervisor jobs are not going to handle unexpected problems correctly. Combine that with our crumbling infrastructure and it’s only a matter of time before some idiot ends up backing up all the toilets in a city or crashing the grid thru stupidity.

        • Sheik Yerbouti

          Automation only works for so long when you’ve fired all the people who designed those systems.

          • AmericanCitizen

            Good point. Another looming issue that will depend on idiots to solve.

        • mikey7777

          hmmm just like AFRICA

      • Paleoconn

        You’re both correct. Of course, unlike businesspeople who could presumably pass on their creation to their progeny, a black government worker cannot pass on his job to his kids.

    • Publius Pompilius Quietus

      The “regression to the mean” phenomenon also exists culturally concerning immigrant groups. Latinos notwithstanding, most immigrants try to assimilate, but the second- and third-generation often feel that their culture has been stolen from them and balkanize toward their own community. The moral: blood is thicker than water.

      • Oil Can Harry

        This happens all the time: lots of ambitious, hard-working black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America LOATHE American blacks. Many have told me personally that they consider them to be shiftless welfare bums and a disgrace to their race.

        And yet most of these immigrants’ children grow up in the ghetto and end up emulating the useless thugs their parents despise.

        • Race War Provisions

          What a crappy way to get back at your parents

          • Sheik Yerbouti

            It’s particularly disgusting when white kids do it.

          • gueppebarre

            You mean like Bill Ayers?

      • archer

        multiculturalism leads to balkanization in any country that practices it. When we started importing third worlders with no cultural ties to this country or to the western world we started our downward spiral. We spend billions trying to educate these people and billions more in subsidies of one kind or another to what end.

  • dd121

    People are realizing that blacks really can’t do anything that requires brains or perseverance.

    • Speedy Steve

      Ironically, there used to be quality blacks who married into other quality families. In the days of segregation, they ran shops, insurance companies, restaurants, theaters, and other businesses. They also lived in the nice parts of Southern towns.

      • dd121

        Southern people had a paternalistic attitude toward blacks back in the day. They certainly didn’t socialize with them.

        • Speedy Steve

          My point was to state that both blacks and Whites discriminate between quality and trash.

          • Sick of it

            We used to discriminate between quality and trash. Today, most whites are too egalitarian. So many have no aesthetic sense.

  • pcmustgo

    “Middle Class” for Blacks is different that “Middle Class” for Whites… a lot of gov’t/city/transit, etc, workers… “Middle Class” as in daddy was a mechanic or “Middle Class” as in daddy was a banker or teacher? Very different. Few are real “upper middle class”/intellectual elite people.

    • TomIron361

      Well said sir. So very true.

    • Irish

      Spot on, and often overlooked in these story’s “Middle class” encompasses a very large swath of people..

      • ElComadreja

        Because nobody seems to want to admit they’re really “working class”.

    • ghettovalley

      Let’s be honest here, upper middle class for most blacks means being a drug dealer, pimp, or gang member. Lower middle class means having enough chilluns to receive a nice monthly check from the government. If American blacks were simply left to their own devices they would probably be living in poorly constructed shanty towns much like the crowded slums of South America. If they could even manage to build that.

  • superlloyd

    Regression to the mean and the fact that a vast amount of the black middle class are grossly overpaid government AA hires who, by definition, are not recruited on their ability.

  • TruthBeTold

    …when black families attain middle-class status, the likelihood that their children will remain there, or do better, isn’t high.

    I suspect that black parents got there through some sort of affirmative action program (work or housing) but once there, the gravy train ends and they’re expected to pull their own weight which they’re incapable of doing.

  • crockadoodle6

    The economy blacks belong to is ‘facilitated assignment’ model, not true capitalism. In nature the ecosystem requires success and luck for rewards and thus survival. No one gave the dinosaurs fur coats so they are extinct. This concept applies to our style of capitalism. Income (success) is a result of hard work, education, ingenuity, etc and luck. Blacks fail miserably in this system. Consequently, they are ‘assigned’ an income regardless of education, ingenuity, etc. It is facilitated by the 80+ government programs. The end result is what we see in virtually every local, municipal, regional, state and federal government office in America: incompetent, lazy blacks watching the clock while playing on their computer and shuffling papers back and forth.. $75 hair do, nails, face paint sitting on top of 250 lbs of seething anger and attitude.

    • exlib93

      Your post reminded me of a past supervisor, a black woman, 300 lbs, nasty, and lazy. She would sit at her desk all day, in full view of the customers, while she worked on her checkbook, and ate candy. No shame whatsoever. This was a state agency, and when her supervisor tried to motivate her, she used the “race card”. She’s retired now, on the taxpayer’s dime, and she did virtually nothing to earn it.

  • crockadoodle6

    I’m curious about two things. The article implies that:
    1.there are parents. Not single momma or granma or older sister
    2. They actually know who their family members are.

  • Bossman

    This brief article does not give any reasons for why this is so.

    • Lucky for you, there are a slew of AR regular commenters who can fill in the blanks.

    • Triarius

      The black parents got lucky with some cushy affirmative action job that their children could not find (or as good as one). Therefore, they will slip back to the bottom of the barrel without being propped up.

    • Race War Provisions

      Rap Music mainly Bossman. Shuckin’ & Jivin’ don’t pay the bills

      • Tim

        Your comment reminded me of an interview with a multi-millionaire rap star. When asked what he did for the the old neighborhood, he said he hired his homies at a cost of $50,000 per to “drive and jive”…I have to admit I admired him for that… Remember where you come from.

  • Luca

    Water seeks its own level.

    • Race War Provisions

      More like oil

      • Speedy Steve

        More like sewage!

  • Speedy Steve

    The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago couldn’t reach the conclusion that their collective failure is genetic. Or possibly caused by both television consumption and listening to retarded music through headphones.

    • I think (1) television has been getting progressively dumber over the last 25 years, (2) I have become a curmudgeon over the same time period, or (3) both of the above.

      • Rurik

        Gresham’s Law applying to more than money.

      • LexiconD1

        Replace television with ‘entertainment’…

  • ZB01

    Ahh yes, “regression to the means”. The anonymity afforded by the Internet (relatively, speaking, I know)…allows me to admit as someone who is half black, the idea that any children I might bear could have an IQ of around 85 (good grief, that’s low!) is perhaps enough to dissuade from having children at all!

    • Albert

      Cheer up. Your children will have roughly a 60% chance of inheriting your intelligence. If you and your wife are smart, odds are you will have smart kids.

    • Sick of it

      I shudder in similar fashion when imagining my own children having the average white IQ. Yet it’s hard to find smart women who are also decent these days.

      • ZB01

        You are 100% right. Do people consider genetic structure/inheritable traits beyond just race these days in the choice of a spouse?

        • Sick of it

          We went from being a nation with many smart, good looking people to being a nation with not so many folks like that in like 3-4 generations. People are down-breeding.

  • WR_the_realist

    Children of upper income black parents score lower on SAT tests than children of lower income white parents. So the income levels of the children as they get older follow their SAT scores.

    • Albert

      They simply can’t make a logical connection like that. They throw blacks with low SAT’s into colleges with higher standards, and then have the nerve to act surprised when they do poorly.

  • MBlanc46

    Regression to the mean must be part of it, but I’d wager that the propensity for young blacks, even of relatively high IQ, to feel that they have to “keep it real” and be “authentic” is also a factor.

    • Albert

      Very interesting point. If you take a brief look at their roles models, you get a pretty bleak picture. Rap stars, for instance, glamorize very interesting values such as: womanizing, taking drugs, aggression and outright rebellion.

    • Charles Martel

      I’m also tired of getting Neil Degrasse Tyson shoved down my throat as some sort of example of Negro acheivement.

      • Tom_in_Miami

        Neil Degrasse Tyson was supposed to be the AA replacement for Carl Sagan. How well has he done at that large undertaking?

        • Sick of it

          Apparently, the only thing this “genius” has managed to do is to get folks to stop calling Pluto a proper planet.

        • Atheist Realist

          i don’t get the dislike for NDT. He got into Bronx Science, for which there is no AA.

        • golgisupreme

          Neil has the character for explaining science to the commoner, as oppose to the scientists in the trenches doing the real work who might be a bit more socially awkward.

      • ghettovalley

        Black science man?

  • MBlanc46

    You’ve got to wonder how many of those 70 grand salaries are entirely due to affirmative action.

    • Yancy Derringer

      It’s household income. Still, everyone here knows there are a lot of better qualified and smarter white people who got leapfrogged by AA blacks for plum positions, government and corporate.

    • Charles Martel

      I’m guessing quite a few – and in government or quasi-governmental agencies (the U.S. Postal Service, for’instance) where poor performance is not cause for salary reductions or termination.

    • george00

      You’ve got to wonder why there is such a thing as Affirmative Action. It’s to keep the blacks from burning the cities down.

  • mrfinoni

    Part of the issue is also cultural. If two high IQ Blacks (White Average) meet and marry they could be relatively successful by middle class standards. However, the Blacks still think they are players…. smoke crack, abandon their family, chase mostly White girls at the disco. This behavior is not a recipe for success. Their aggressive quasi criminal behavior leads to a regression to the mean. I have witnessed this behavior in Toronto. I have seen how they struggle and they just don’t get it. Without being racist or judgmental… they are literally a different race. God created different races! It is a simple truth. Western society as well as modern society is White. Blacks at the bottom of the IQ ladder will always struggle in White society. There is no educational solution!

    • Albert

      The solution would be to set different standards for them- such as an 8th grade equivalent to a white education. But doing so would be admitting there are racial differences and- in spite of the what the constitution has been misinterpreted by many to say- not all men are created equal.

    • Spikeygrrl

      “disco” — rotfl!
      The 1970s just called; they want their vocabulary back.

      • Charles Martel

        Canadian English, eh?

      • Sick of it

        France called to remind you that discotheque is still in use over there.

        • Spikeygrrl

          I don’t live in France. Do you?

          • Your assumption that because you do not live in France, then no one else must be living there, or have any knowledge of such a mystical country or their language, merely further cements your status as an imbecile here.

            Instead of lashing out when it’s pointed out, perhaps you should practice a character trait such as humility, and say “my mistake!”

          • Spikeygrrl

            But it wasn’t my mistake. The author of the OP was referring to Americans. Who are not French.

            Here’s another example of how the usage of cognates (look it up) can raise a tempest in a teapot: Say “negro” in Standard American English and you’re excoriated as a bigot. Say “negro” in Spanish and you are simply describing something which is the color black.

  • cherrie greenbaum123

    There is a very strong pull among smart(er) black kids, even the ones from middle class homes, to not “act white”, in other words, to act stupid and not learn. I’ve seen black students who sincerely had brains and a good moral scope get taunted and teased relentlessly for studying and not cutting up in class. When they’re not being teased, they’re being mocked for “acting white”. Black undertow is a very apt term.

    • Albert

      They have a name for blacks like that. They call them “oreo.” Black on the outside but white on the inside.

      • golgisupreme

        I’m actually double-stuffed Oreo. As an adult, I’ve matured to a “no f!cks given” policy. I take pleasure in driving through the old hood while listening to Verdi.

    • Hy Alldredge

      A textbook example of crab mentality.

      • Spikeygrrl

        What is “crab mentality”? TIA

        • nBmnp

          Allegedly when you have a container full of crabs, they pull back any crab that wants to climb out – so none can escape the container.

          • Spikeygrrl

            Yep, that fits. Thanks!

        • Hy Alldredge

          It’s based in the behavior of a bunch of crabs in a bucket or a pot. When one tries to climb out, its fellow crabs drag it back down, with the result that they all get cooked.

    • Charles Martel

      Yes. Like Trayvon Martin. He was gonna be an astronaut you know. . .


      • Mike Brown was going to be an HVAC repairman, though apparently nobody told him that the companies that do that sort of work drug-test their employees, as well as requiring them to be bonded and insured.

        • He was actually getting those cigarellos to do smoke tests to find leaks in AC ducting I’ve heard…

  • Albert

    1980’s, eh. Wonder what that place is like now.

    • Sick of it

      It’s still a big deal today when a school wants to hold an integrated prom.

  • a1781054

    Affirmative action. Although their children are also eligible.

    • Irish

      Not for long..Oddly (lol) Meztiso’s don’t really feel much sympathy for Black folks..

  • Harry

    Ignorance: For Us By Us.

  • Yancy Derringer

    Shows that on the SAT, a white with only a HS diploma outperformed a black with a graduate degree. I’m not surprised, given academic racial quotas and simple majors like Education and Black Studies.

  • Spikeygrrl

    All that education and you still think Wikipedia is a reputable citation? Shame on you.

  • Irish

    Yet another article avoiding the 800 lb Gorilla in the room..

  • haroldcrews

    It’s YT’s fault for selfishly wishing to preserve wealth, be safe from crime, and have access to good schools. If the major asset that denotes a family being middle class is home ownership then white flight would disproportionately affect black families more than white. Logically this is so since a much higher percentage of black families lose property value than do white families since nearly all black families that move into white majority communities will be negatively impacted by white flight but many white families living in communities with large white majorities will not have to engage in white flight or at the very least less often.

    Of course this would not be the only reason but it is I suspect a significant one.

    • Tom_in_Miami

      It seems to me that if all the factors of white flight were equal, blacks would be lifted up when all the whites suddenly move out of a neighborhood since there would be an abundance of middle-class housing available at cut-rate prices for the blacks. The 800 pound gorilla is the destruction of the neighborhood by the blacks which lowers the property values for everyone and, by definition, creates a horrible ghetto. Take a look at Detroit: there is no shortage of housing there. It’s just that the place has been wrecked and populated by the very people who make it unlivable.

      • haroldcrews

        Very true Tom, white flight is a vast wealth transfer from white sellers to black buyers. At least it is when considering replacement value of the structure and real estate as opposed to the sale price.

  • A lot of the “loss of black wealth” was nothing more than the simple algebra of the mortgage formula.

  • Recently I got an article entitled “10 Black Environmentalists You Need to Know”. Curious as I knew of not a single black who was even remotely interested in the environment, I looked at it. It seemed from the article that all a black had to do was get thru college with an environmental background and then they were immediately named to to top position in the EPA or at a prestigous university right out of college. The career breaks that these people got would make any normal white drool with envy.

    My guess is that these families are the recipients of highly beneficial affirmative action programs without having to really think about what’s important or to display the high IQ and wisdom that would normally be associated with someone making it into relative prosperity in this day & age. Thus their kids simply “regress to the mean” and resume their old stupid ways of dealing with money and life in general without the benefits of being shoveled tons of money and top positions in Government.

    This more than any housing/ property miscalculations, explains why subsequent black generations cannot maintain their positions.

  • Atheist Realist

    as i’ve said before, net worth would be more revealing

  • barelyintrepid

    Makes sense from a cultural perspective. Granted, I have nothing beyond personal and reported anecdotal evidence to back this up, but middle class blacks seem to enthusiastically embrace ghetto culture.

    Maybe they need to prove their “blackness” or something, but even blacks from wealthy families want to be “cool” and act like thugs. This behavior has a predictable consequence, bad grades, risky behavior, and missed opportunity. I know the son of a black doctor arrested for trafficking. Kid wanted to be cool, didn’t need money, and instead of going to college the Idiot spent 3 years in prison.

    Whites do the same thing to a various degree, but few “embrace” their idiotic rebellion to the extent of the wannabe thugs. Blacks also have far more access through family/friends to real ghetto retards, so they’re actually able to live out their gangbanger fantasies for real.

    • gueppebarre

      I think you have hit the nail square on the head. Too afraid of being called “white” and it leads to trouble.

      I’ve seen a lot of it.

  • Poupon Marx

    Black school superintendents, teachers, firemen, police, Post Orifice, and legions of public sector Bleck workers in all levels of government-local to Feral, I mean Federal, and the forced hiring of Blecks in private industry. We’ve destroyed our meritocracy culture based on standards of all types. We’ve forced the entire economy to choose the less qualified, less prepared, with the least potential. And STILL, Blecks are not satisfied. More dumbing down is necessary to achieve equal results, according to our Elites.

    The “Black Middle Class” is not even middling, it’s inferior in performance, and everyone knows this singular, simple, and awful Truth.

  • Poupon Marx

    Public service unions around the globe are strangling gummints and creating fiscal crisis. One such example is Brazil.

  • Ike Eichenberg

    SAT scores for the black kids from the wealthiest families would suggest their IQs are around that of the poorest and dumbest Whites.

  • The main reason I have seen for this is once black parents reach the middle class they tend to become complacent [because they worked so hard to get there] feeling they have finally made it but fail to properly guide and prepare their children for the future and the competitive world they will have to live it.