African-American middle class
The African-American middle class consists of African Americans who have middle-class status within the American class structure. It is a societal level within the African American community that primarily began to develop in the early 1960s, when the ongoing African-American Civil Rights Movement led to the outlawing of de jure racial segregation. The gains accrued by the Civil Rights Era is strongly correlated with the emergence of a new black middle class.
- 1 Definition of middle class
- 2 History of black middle class in the United States
- 3 Challenges of the black American middle class
- 4 African immigrants and the black middle class
- 5 African-American poverty
- 6 See also
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Definition of middle class
While the vast majority of whites are centrally middle-class, the majority of African Americans are considered lower middle-class, also defined as working-class and lower class. In terms of income, the narrowest view of a household with a middle-class income is considered $39,100 to $62,000, while a more generous view is $20,291 to $100,000. Anything around $40,000 is seen as the lower end of the middle-class household income. In 2009, the majority of white household incomes was around $54,461, which is considered a centrally middle-class income. On the other hand, the majority of black household incomes was 32,584, which is viewed as a working class income.
As of the 2010 Census, black households had a median income of $32,068, which places the median black household within the second income quintile. 27.3% of black households earn an income between $25,000 and $50,000, 15.2% earn between $50,000 and $75,000, 7.6% earn between $75,000 and $100,000, and 9.4% earn more than $100,000.
Although the composition of the black middle class varies by definition, the black middle class is typically divided into a lower-middle class, core middle class, and an upper-middle class. The black lower-middle class is concentrated in sales, clerical positions, and other blue-collar occupations, while the black upper-middle class (sometimes combined into the black upper class) is characterized by highly educated professionals in white-collar occupations, such as health care professionals, lawyers, professors, and engineers.
History of black middle class in the United States
African Americans had limited opportunities for advancement to middle class status prior to 1961 because of racial discrimination, segregation, and the fact that most lived in the rural South. In 1960, forty-three percent of the white population completed high school, while only twenty percent of the black population did the same. African Americans had little to no access to higher education, and only three percent graduated from college. Those blacks who were professionals were mainly confined to serving the African American population. Outside of the black community, they worked in unskilled industrial jobs. Black women who worked were almost all domestic servants.
Economic growth, public policy, black skill development, and the civil rights movement all contributed to the surfacing of a larger black middle class. The civil rights movement helped to remove barriers to higher education. As opportunity for African Americans expanded, blacks began to take advantage of the new possibilities. Homeownership has been crucial in the rise of the black middle class, including the movement of African Americans to the suburbs, which has also translated into better educational opportunities. By 1980, over 50% of the African American population had graduated from high school and eight percent graduated from college. In 2006, 86% of blacks between age 25 and 29 had graduated from high school and 19% had completed a bachelor's degrees. As of 2003, the percentage of black householders is 48%, compared to 43% in 1990.
Rise and decline of middle class blacks
The rise to the middle class for African Americans throughout the 1960s, however, leveled off and began to decline in the following decades due to multiple recessions that struck America throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Blacks and other lower-class groups suffered the brunt of those recessions. In addition, with beliefs in "reverse racism" prevailing, aiding programs that were enacted during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to improve the state of the black community began being heavily opposed and overturned by the late 1970s and into the 1980s. There is also evidence to suggest the wealth gap has been exacerbated by the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009, which took a far greater toll on depleting minority wealth.
Challenges of the black American middle class
Empirical evidence demonstrates that blacks have less upward mobility than whites. A report done by the Pew Research Center in 2007 says that of the sons and daughters of the black middle class, 45% of black children end up "near poor", and the comparable rate for white families is 16%. The trend of downward mobility has caused the overall majority of middle-class-black children to end up with lower incomes than their parents. While 68% of white children earn incomes above their parents, 31% of black children earn incomes more than their parents did. The lower rate of upward mobility could be caused by the lack of married blacks, and the number of blacks born out of wedlock. In 2009, 72% of black babies were born out of wedlock, compared with 28% of white women.
Racial wealth gap
According to a 2011 study from Pew Research Center, whites possess 20 times more wealth than African Americans and 18 times that of Latinos. Whereas the average white family has accumulated $113,149 of wealth, the typical black household has only accumulated $5,677 in wealth.
As of 1999, whites and blacks similarly situated within the "educational middle class" live in distinct wealth worlds. Whereas educationally middle-class whites possessed $111,000 in median net worth, educationally middle-class black families had only $33,500 dollars; in terms of assets the disparity was $56,000 to $15,000. Looking at only "the occupational middle-class", an equally pronounced gap is visible: middle-class whites had $123,000 in median net worth and $60,000 in median net financial assets compared to $26,500 and $11,200 for middle-class African Americans. Across the various categories that comprise the middle class, white families possess "between three and five times as much wealth as equally achieving black middle class families." For each dollar of income a family earns, white families earn $3.25 in net worth and black families accumulate just under $2 of net worth for each dollar earned.
Importance of wealth
Most contemporary wealth is built on the concept of home equity. Present-day income is thus an insufficient measure of household socioeconomic status. Looking at disparities between wealth accumulation among African Americans and whites paints a far more accurate picture of racial socioeconomic differences. The estimated median wealth of black households is $35,000, while white households estimated their parent's median wealth at $150,000  Thus, a middle-income African American who makes an impressive salary may still be disadvantaged in light of asset poverty and deprivation.
For African Americans who were historically denied access to housing wealth, they face a substantial wealth disparity compared to whites. Asset poverty affects an African American's ability to procure other forms of middle class lifestyle and other forms of wealth. Asset poverty is built on an intergenerational nature of wealth, in which fewer assets are bequeathed to future generations, crippling the aggregate amount of wealth accumulated in a given family. Wealth is transferable from generation to generation, allowing people to generate more wealth, borrow money for investments, and to invest in education, housing, and future wealth. The history and legacy of discrimination still has ripple effects crippling the black middle class. One policy that can potentially enable African Americans to rise out of asset poverty is the implementation of Individual Development Account (IDA) programs that specifically target people of color and help them use matched savings to acquire assets like their first home, a post-secondary education and small businesses.
In a project conducted by the University of Washington's Civil Rights and Labor History Program in 2010, it was found that more than 400 properties in Seattle suburbs alone contained now illegal discriminatory language that formerly excluded racial minorities.
Another barrier is discriminatory mortgage lending patterns and redlining. In applying for a home mortgage, African American and Hispanic customers are 82% more likely to be turned down for a loan than were white customers. Black renters also favored a 10.7 percent chance of being totally excluded from housing made available to comparable white renters and a 23.3 percent chance of learning about fewer apartments.
Discrimination in housing practices and residential segregation leads to substantial wealth gaps across races. Home ownership is typically a source of insurance against poverty. However, for blacks and Hispanics, home ownership rates have never made it past 50%.
Another problem facing lower middle-class African Americans is their close proximity and ties to poor African Americans. Most of the lower middle-class black neighborhoods in the U.S. are adjacent to poor, struggling, urban areas and neighborhoods. For the most part, lower middle-class African Americans and poor African Americans share the same communities and environments. This is in part due to African Americans being much more likely to have poor family members, as much of today's middle-aged and elderly African Americans are very likely to have grown up in poverty. In fact, due to previous generations of racial discrimination, the African American rise to the lower middle-class is a development that largely only took off by the 1960s during the height of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Because of the close living quarters between lower middle-class African Americans and poor African Americans, there is high potential for lower middle-class African Americans to develop friendships, relationships, and ties to poor African Americans and find themselves sharing the same urban environments. As a result, sociologists have found that the African American community's middle class has a greater potential than do middle-class whites of being involved with crimes and falling victim to crimes. As for centrally middle-class African Americans, they not only make up a racial class that is relatively scant in number, but they make up a racial class that is left with the unenviable options of either living in working-class black neighborhoods; adjacent to struggling, urban environments; or in suburban areas where they are vastly outnumbered by whites.
Segregated housing patterns also keep African Americans far from suburbanizing jobs and associated job information networks. This mismatch between residential locations and employment reduce the employment options for middle- and lower-class African Americans. These segregated housing patterns are supported by discriminatory mortgage lending practices and overt attempts to keep suburban neighborhoods racially exclusive. Although most African Americans are not living below the poverty line, what is middle-class for most white Americans is vastly different to what is middle-class for most African Americans. The few black professionals in all-white neighborhoods are not representative of the African American middle class by any stretch. Rather, most African Americans are lower middle-class living from paycheck to paycheck, employed in such jobs as retail, and facing many problems and circumstances worse off even than poor whites. Hence, what is vastly missing from the African American community is a cohesive, central middle class.
Racial suburbanization lag
There is a significant black suburbanization lag, in which African Americans are less likely to adopt suburban residential patterns. Because of institutional housing discrimination and discriminatory lending practices, the black middle class is more likely to reside in neighborhoods composed mainly of African Americans. These neighborhoods tend to be close to inner-city neighborhoods and replicate the problems of the inner city.
Hispanics and Asians, on the other hand, are likely to be suburbanized at far higher rates than African Americans. Even when African Americans do reside in contemporary suburbs, they are less likely to gain access to the same range of benefits and amenities as their white peers.
Black suburbs tend to be areas of low socioeconomic status and population density. Many are former manufacturing suburbs with weak tax bases, poor municipal services, and high levels of debt, compromising the secure middle-class lifestyle of its African American inhabitants. These black middle-class neighborhoods also tend to have inflated house values and lower home equity because racial segmentation of suburban housing markets restricts demand for housing in black suburbs. The low socioeconomic character of these black middle-class neighborhoods, in turn, undermines the ability of the black middle class to build wealth on depreciated and undervalued black suburbs.
The achievement gap is deeply alive in the black middle class. Middle-class black children lag behind their white and Asian peers, with the gap the largest among the college-educated. According to scholars on the middle-class black-white education gap, black middle-class performance is closer to poor white children.
Structural and institutional explanations for achievement gap
One reason for the racial achievement gap is lack of quality schools in black middle-class neighborhoods. Minority children tend to be concentrated in low-achieving, highly segregated schools. Quality of public education in residential areas across the United States is linked to neighborhood socioeconomic status. Because middle-class African Americans tend to reside in segregated neighborhoods of lower socioeconomic character, they often attend struggling public schools which cannot provide the same academic resources as quality suburban schools.
Historically, programs designed for black school systems to succeed were all dropped by the early 1980s. Monetary funds were instead put into suburban schools, bolstering white flight, and causing black schools to deteriorate in quality. The disparity in expenditures on education between inner cities and affluent suburbs exist almost entirely due to the system of property taxes which most school systems rely on for funding. By attending spatially segregated school systems, children of the black middle class are locked out of the same educational and employment opportunities as their white counterparts. In general, minority students are more likely to reside in lower or middle class inner city neighborhoods, meaning minority students are more likely to attend poorly funded schools based on the districting patterns within the school system. Schools in lower-income districts tend to employ less qualified teachers and have fewer educational resources. Research shows that teacher effectiveness is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning. Good teachers can actually close or eliminate the gaps in achievement on the standardized tests that separate white and minority students.
Cultural explanations for achievement gap
The culture and environment in which children are raised may play a role in the achievement gap. For example, many black middle-class households are headed by a single parent who may not have the time to devote to a child's education. Another explanation that has been suggested for racial and ethnic differences in standardized test performance is that standardized IQ tests and testing procedures are culturally biased toward European-American middle class knowledge and experiences. Social psychologist Claude Steele suggests that minority children and adolescents may also experience stereotype threat—the fear that they will be judged to have traits associated with negative appraisals and/or stereotypes of their race or ethnic group which produces test anxiety and keeps them from doing as well as they could on tests. According to Steele, minority test takers experience anxiety, believing that if they do poorly on their test they will confirm the stereotypes about inferior intellectual performance of their minority group. As a result, a self-fulfilling prophecy begins, and the child performs at a level beneath his or her inherent abilities. Some researchers also hypothesize that in some cases, minorities, especially African American students, may stop trying in school because they do not want to be accused of "acting white" by their peers. It has also been suggested that some minority students simply stop trying because they do not believe they will ever see the true benefits of their hard work. As some researchers point out, minority students may feel little motivation to do well in school because they do not believe it will pay off in the form of a better job or upward social mobility. By not trying to do well in school, such students engage in a rejection of the achievement ideology—that is, the idea that working hard and studying long hours will pay off for students in the form of higher wages or upward social mobility.
Achieving higher education is strongly correlated with the affluence of African Americans and their access to professional jobs. Recently, there has been a growth of historically black colleges to serve the black middle class in terms of higher education prospects. Historically black colleges and universities were formed because people classified as black were not allowed to attend existing colleges and universities for the most part. Despite systematic inequalities and discrimination, HBCUs were able to provide a culturally affirming, psychologically supportive academic environment for ambitious black middle-class students. Research shows historically black colleges and universities contribute significantly to the black middle class and the nation's economy. In spite of fewer resources and lower endowment funds, historically black colleges and universities produce an impressive number of graduates in education and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. However, debates linger on the effectiveness of historically black colleges and universities. Specific concerns are whether historically black colleges and universities provide equivalent quality of education and whether they foster racial exclusivity.
African immigrants and the black middle class
Sub-Saharan African immigrants to the United States tend to have higher income levels than African Americans due to their higher education levels. (Sub-Saharan Africans are distinguished from African Americans, who are the descendants of America's black slaves.) In addition, African immigrants have the highest educational attainment rates of all American ethnic groups, with higher levels of completion than the commonly stereotyped Asian American model minority. Like most Asian Americans, black Africans migrated to America in the last few decades after the Jim Crow/African-American Civil Rights Movement era ended. Prior to the mid-1970s, there were very few non-white immigrants because of immigration laws, banning non-whites; that is, up until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which was an extension of, and made possible by way of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Despite this, U.S. immigration policies are still discriminatory insofar as favoring immigrant candidates that have professional skills and higher educational levels over the many immigrant candidates who do not. In addition to this, it was found in a study that non-Mexican immigrants who can't simply cross the border, but must be able to pay for transatlantic journey, usually come to the U.S. already educated with middle-class backgrounds.
In 1997, 24.6 percent of all adult white Americans and 13.3 percent of all black Americans held a bachelors degree, while 48.9 percent of African immigrants held a bachelor's degree. Though the U.S. Census Bureau counts white populations who emigrated from Africa in the same category as black Africans, it shows African immigrants were more than three times as likely to hold a bachelor's degree than native-born African Americans. Despite the high educational achievement of African immigrants, they still tend to have lower median household incomes compared to other immigrant groups. Many African immigrants hold strong ties to their home countries and send remittances to their relatives.
Long term poverty is rare for whites. Almost 9 out of 10 long-term poor children are African American and more than 6 out of long-term poor children have spent time in single-parent families. Poverty in a child's most formative years is critical to shaping a child's future attainments in terms of test scores, schooling, fertility choices, labor market outcomes and incomes. Research has shown that parents who devote all of their time to meeting consumption needs have little time, money, and energy left to improve their own lives and their children's education and skills. Because lower and middle-class African Americans attend lower quality schools, have less formalized forms of social control, fewer job networks, and fewer good role models, this causes many African Americans to turn to teen gangs and crime. The parental associations between disadvantage and material deprivation may also reproduce itself intergenerationally through harsh, inconsistent parenting styles and a failure to provide an emotional and cognitive environment conducive to healthy growth. Although middle-class African Americans may earn more than their lower-class African-American counterparts, research shows that disadvantage is not just related to income itself, but the disadvantages associated with race, discrimination, and intergenerational deprivation. Race is a proxy for a historical disadvantage which is being reproduced despite income and material gains for the Black middle class.
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