The uneven distribution of income is a key contributor of economic injustice in the US. Income inequality is influenced by policy, education, and globalization, among other factors. Raj Chetty and colleagues, in collaboration with the US Census Bureau, studied race and intergenerational earnings, important contributors to income inequality, as part of the Opportunity Insights project.
Black Americans have lower rates of upward mobility and higher rates of downward mobility than Whites. The figure above shows gaps in income ranks for Black and White males in adulthood, juxtaposed with the income of their parents. The image displays that on average, neither Black or White males reach the income level of their parents. The gap between Black and White males’ earnings is especially stark. One finding is particularly striking: even when they grow up in households with comparably high incomes, black males earn less than White males in adulthood.
Take a look at the parent household income rank at the 75th percentile. When White male children with parental income at the 75th percentile become income-earning adults, their average income rank falls to the 64th percentile. When Black male children with parental income at the 75th percentile become income earning adults, their average income rank falls to the 52nd percentile.
The Black-White income gap dependent on parental earnings in the US is driven by the difference in income outcomes of Black and White males. According to the study no such gaps are evident between Black and White women.
Areas with the smallest Black-White male income gaps tend to be low-poverty neighborhoods with low levels of racial bias among Whites, and high rates of father presence among Blacks. The question then becomes, how do we replicate these conditions across the entire country to narrow gaps in income and improve the overall quality of life for Black men? The authors call attention to endeavors, such as Black male role models mentoring boys in their communities, that offer an opportunity to increase upward mobility across generations.
Image: Opportunity Insights, Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective, by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, Sonya R. Porter, March 2018