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.
“Your (last post) is one of the most active and positive that I have read of yours. You do put your time to where your values are. Those of us who see you as too economically focused and ourselves as more humanely concerned need to act as well. Thanks for your focus and attention.”
from a reader of my blog
I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. The primary reason I write this blog is because I am so concerned about the fiscal recklessness of our national leaders. Our national debt is much too large and still growing too fast. We need to either cut spending or raise taxes (or do both).
But I am also a social progressive. I voted in favor of Nebraska raising its minimum wage last fall. I support gay marriage as a civil right. I support having Nebraska expand Medicaid in order to cover more low-income people (where Medicaid needs to be fixed is at the federal level). There is in fact a very close connection between having a sound economy and social progress. As the above chart shows, the U.S. ranks very high in both GDP per person and social progress. All of the countries which are most socially progressive also have sound economies. This is not a coincidence.
My last post talks about what society can do to help blacks improve their socio-economic status. This includes improving educational opportunity in the inner city. But improved educational opportunity needs to be closely directed toward improved economic opportunity. This means, for example, having good jobs available for new high school and community college graduates. But this, in turn, means having strong economic growth with intelligent tax and regulatory policies to encourage entrepreneurship and business expansion.
In short, a sound economy is essential for social progress.