Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Fate of the Black Middle Class

Seven years ago, Adam Gamoran predicted that in the 21st century educational disparities between Blacks and Whites would decline by means of the “virtuous cycle” and other factors. The virtuous cycle, he asserts, is the result of upward social mobility in the Black community, “just as Blacks who attended high school in the 1980s and 1990s benefited from the educational accomplishments of their parents, so their children will benefit from the further narrowing of educational inequalities” (p. 137).

But perhaps Mare’s position is more in line with the Pew Research Center’s disturbing and counterintuitive report documenting a trend in downward mobility among the Black middle class. The Pew Research Center found that 45% of the children of Black middle class parents “end up near poor”. How can this be? I will summarize a possibility offered by a columnist of USA Today:

1. The two-paycheck family is the most important factor driving up income and living standards in America. Yet, the percentage of married African Americans dropped 26 percentage points between 1969 and 1998. Although martial rates also dropped for White Americans, they were not as affected because of a much higher starting point.

2. African American women have a much higher college graduation rate than their male counterparts—this report says they graduate at twice the rate. Between 1974 and 2007 the media income for African American men fell by 12% and rose by 75% for African American women. Quoting directly, “a high-earning woman has little incentive to marry a low earning man”. Similar trends are noticeable in the Latina/o community.

3. Perhaps the most disturbing possibility, that “achieving middle class status is no guarantee that children will start achieving in school”. What about our discussions on social, cultural, and human capital and mobility through education? For those who are as disturbed as I, see Claude Steele’s stereotype threat for a potential (psychosocial) explanation.

4. The report also documented higher perceptions of racial discrimination among African Americans than among Whites. This reminded me of our discussion about the differences in market / economic returns for educated women/men and black/white people.

What would Adam Gamoran say?


tdomina said...

The question is how the rate of downward mobility from the black middle class differs from the rate of downward mobility from the white middle class. It's not good news that 45% of the children of the black middle class end up poor or near-poor. But if the fate of the children of the white middle class is similar, Gamoran's prediction still holds.

I'm not optimistic, but then, a black man just won 55% of the vote in a Democratic primary in South Carolina (including 25% of the white vote and a majority of the under-30 white vote). So things do change!

Anonymous said...

This relates to Vaber's argument that education is a "gatekeeper" that controls access to upper mobility. The rate of black downward mobility furthers the point that elites stay on top. This in a sense is the "vicious cycle."

Catherine Ching Ed 175

Irene said...

This particular study says that 68 percent of White middle class children will have higher incomes than their parents compared to only 31 percent of Black middle class children. That is a substantial difference; according to this source Gamoran's prediction is inaccurate.