WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Black Americans are failing to climb the social ladder, while a worrying number born into the middle classes are now actually poorer than their parents, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The report by Brookings Institution scholar Julia Isaacs found blacks were missing out on a cherished American dream that their children will be economically better off.
“Children from middle- and upper middle-class black families experience a generational drop in income that is in sharp contrast to the traditional American expectation that each generation will do better than the one that came before it,” she wrote.
The study was part of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project.
Two out of three Americans who were children in 1968 grow up to have higher income than their parents, Isaacs found, but less than a third of black children born in the middle classes do better financially than their parents.
In addition, being born into a financially secure home is no guarantee of dying in one, with blacks enjoying significantly less economic protection than white peers.
“A startling 45 percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle income end up falling to the bottom income quintile, while only 16 percent of white children born to parents in the middle make this descent,” she wrote.
Isaacs does not specifically discuss outright racial discrimination in the labor market as an explanation for the poorer economic performance of black Americans, although one study that draws this conclusion is cited in the report.
The report examined data on 2,367 individuals who were 18 years old or younger in 1968. The middle quintile of the U.S. income distribution covers family incomes between $49,000 and $65,000 in inflation-adjusted 2006 dollars.
Family incomes have grown for both groups in the last 30 years, partly because many more women are now working.
But this has not closed the race income gap. Median black family incomes in 2004 were $35,000, compared with $60,000 for whites of similar age, and almost one-quarter of blacks live below federally defined poverty lines, three times more than whites.
Part of the problem has been the decline in the relative economic well-being of black men, which got worse between 1974 and 2004. In fact, black men now in their 30s earn roughly 12 percent less than their fathers’ generation.
Another factor may be the lower level of marriage in the black American population, leading to more single-parent families supported by one income.
So not only are black Americans still poorer than whites, the chances are high that they will remain that way.
“In terms of absolute, relative and integrated mobility measures, white children have substantially more upward mobility than black children of comparable incomes,” she said.
Editing by Jan Paschal