My last post, “Racism and Black Progress,” pointed out that, despite all of the racial tension in our society, especially bad at the present time, blacks have made much social and economic progress over the past half century. All Americans of good will want this progress to continue.
I live in Omaha NE and am personally involved in a very promising public initiative to improve educational outcomes in inner city schools. It is called the Learning Community and is an Omaha metro-wide effort to close the academic achievement gap between children from low-income families and those from the middle class. The above chart shows clearly what the problem is. Already in third grade FRL (free and reduced priced lunch) kids are behind on the NeSA (Nebraska State Assessment) reading test. The gap persists into middle school and then gets much worse in high school. A recent article in the Omaha World Herald reports that while black students make up 25% of Omaha Public Schools enrollment, they are responsible for 55% of disciplinary incidents. Obviously, disruptive students are not learning what they need to know to succeed in school and in life.
A promising solution to this very difficult problem of improving educational outcomes for inner city students is early childhood education to prepare these kids to succeed in Kindergarten and then stay in school until graduation. This is in fact the approach being taken by Omaha’s Learning Community. But it is clearly a long range program which will take many years to show success. Conclusion. A solid basic education is essential for success in today’s highly complex society. Blacks will never reach full social and economic equality with whites until they achieve better educational outcomes. Early childhood education has much promise in closing the academic achievement gap but will take many years to show significant progress.
At this time of heightened racial tensions in the U.S. it is worthwhile to step back and take a broader view of the economic and social status of blacks in America. The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson has done just this in a recent column. As pointed out by Mr. Samuelson blacks have made much progress since the 1960s:
Poverty. Black poverty has dropped from 39.3% in 1967 to 26.2% in 2014, which was still double the white rate of 12.7%
Education. In 1950 only 13.7% of adult blacks had completed high school. By 2014 this had jumped to 86.7%. Over the same period the percentage of black adults with a four year college degree jumped from 2.2% to 22.8%. The corresponding percentage for whites in 2014 is 36%.
Upward Mobility. The black upper middle class (with incomes of $100,000 or more, inflation adjusted) has grown form 2.8% of households in 1967 to 13% in 2014. For the U.S. population as a whole it is now 31%.
Politics. In 1965, when the voting rights act was passed, there were five blacks in Congress, now there 46. Over the same time period, the number of black state legislators grew from 200 to 700.
Life Expectancy. The life expectancy gap between blacks and whites shrank from 8 years in 1970 to 5 years in 2010.
Conclusion. Most people understand that life for blacks in America is more difficult than it is for whites. On the whole American society is trying to help blacks lift themselves up to be able to enjoy a more prosperous and satisfying life. Much progress has been made in this respect in the last half-century but there is clearly still a long way to go in achieving full equality with white America. In my next post I will discuss one of the biggest barriers which remain in achieving equality between races.
I describe myself as a fiscal conservative with a social conscience. Most of the time I discuss issues like slow economic growth and excessive national debt. But occasionally, like today, I deal with related issues such as social inequality. Last fall I had a post entitled, “Why Racism Exists in America” in which I made the case that it’s not just our different skin color which divides blacks and whites, but also the large degree of social inequality between the two races, such as disparities in family structure and education levels as well as for income levels. Today I am pleased to refer to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Black Americans See Gains in Life Expectancy.” In fact, the black-white life expectancy gap has dropped from 7 years in 1990 to 3.4 years today. This is for a multitude of reasons:
The suicide rate for black men has declined from 1999 to 2014, the only racial group to show such a drop.
Births to black teenage mothers, who tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64% since 1995, faster than for whites.
The rate of deaths by homicide for blacks decreased by 40% from 1995 to 2013, compared with a 28% drop for whites.
The death rate from cancer fell by 29% for blacks over the same period, compared with 20% for whites.
Smoking has declined faster for blacks than whites and, in fact, blacks now have lower smoking rates than whites.
The decline in black deaths from AIDS accounts for a fifth of the narrowing of the mortality gap with whites from 1995 to 2013.
One way that black lives matter is that blacks are living longer! This offers hope that blacks can and will make progress on other fronts as well.
Every year at this time, our nation is reminded of the progress our country has made in race relations as well as the work which remains to be done. Here are three different approaches to concrete actions which can be taken to help black Americans improve their lot.
Not too long ago I quoted the black scholar, John McWhorter, as follows “Today’s struggle should focus on three priorities. First, the war on drugs, a policy that unnecessarily tears apart black families and neighborhoods. Second, community colleges and vocational education, which are invaluable for helping black Americans get ahead. And third, the AIDS and obesity epidemics, which are ravaging black communities.”
An extensive report by the Hamilton Project (associated with the Brookings Institute), “Policies to Address Poverty in America,” focuses on four discrete areas where progress can be achieved:
Promoting Early Childhood Development
Supporting Disadvantaged Youth
Improving the Safety Net and Work Support
Finally, the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives has recently released a new plan, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” proposing to redesign the American welfare system to help more people move off the bottom rung. The idea is to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate means-tested programs such as SNAP, TANF, childcare and housing assistance programs, into a new holistic Opportunity Grant Program. Here’s how it would work:
Each participating state will approve a list of certified providers who are held accountable for achieving results such as moving people to work, out of poverty and off of assistance.
Needy individuals will select a provider who will conduct a comprehensive assessment of that person’s needs, abilities and circumstances.
The provider and the recipient will develop a customized plan and contract both for immediate financial needs and also for long term goals towards self-sufficiency.
Successful completion of a contract will include able-bodied individuals obtaining a job and earning enough to live above the poverty line.
Here are three very distinct sources addressing the issue of black poverty in America. All three approaches are looking for practical solutions to a very difficult problem and they have a lot in common. This suggests that it should be possible for national leaders to come together and take effective action!