Financially, middle class African-Americans are better off than they have been in decades past.
But when you look at their growth compared to that of other ethnic groups, the progress is comparatively slow. Some even say that progress has plateaued or is dropping off.
In 2017, analysis of census data showed African-Americans were the only racial group in the country earning less money than they were in the year 2000. Two years earlier, in 2015, researchers at Stanford University published a study that pointed to the neighborhood gap as one of the major factors behind racial disparities across the U.S. Using census data, the researchers discovered that even among black and white families who made the same amount of money each year, white families were more likely to live in a “good” neighborhoods with good schools, parks, day-care, etc. What the researchers said was even more striking is that they found typical middle-income black families live in neighborhoods where the average income is lower than a neighborhood where your average low-income white family.
Some might say there’s also an issue of segregation among middle class African-Americans. While education and job opportunities are now more accessible than they have been in the past for middle class blacks, many families have been sequestered into neighborhoods with low home values, which can leads to disparity in opportunities. In this 2016 op-ed from the New York Times, author Henry Louis Gates, Jr. points to the work of Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, who argues that there are two groups within Black America: the haves and the have-nots. And the haves, some argue, don’t like being associated with those they believe are ‘have nots.’
Today on AirTalk, Larry Mantle looks back at the history of the rise of the black middle class, and talks with expert historians about what the past can tell us about what the future may hold.
Stefan Bradley, Ph.D., chair of the African American Studies department at Loyola Marymount University; his research focuses on post-WWII Black communities in America
Jody Armour, professor of law at USC