How Black Middle-Class Kids Become Poor Adults

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

{snip}┬áBut 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.”

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.