NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 28, 2007

Many press reports duly echo the theme that the middle-class American dream continues to elude African American Families.  The reality is different: Since the 1960s, the black middle class has steadily expanded, says Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post.

Although blacks' economic status lags that of whites, the advances are still sizable:

  • When compared with their parents in the late 1960s, black families today have a median income that's 29 percent higher at $71,900 (and this understates gains in living standards, because families are about 25 percent smaller and the income figures exclude fringe benefits and non-cash government benefits).
  • About two-thirds of today's adults have incomes higher than their parents did -- a result that is roughly similar for both blacks and whites (the children of the middle-income group of blacks were not typical).
  • Almost 60 percent of the children born of the poorest families moved up the income distribution (23 percent into the second-poorest fifth and 6 percent into the richest fifth).

Everyone knows that economic inequality has increased in recent decades, says Samuelson.  The richest 10 to 20 percent of Americans have gotten richer faster than the rest.  But the people at the top are not all the same people or even the children of the same people.  This vindicates one version of the American dream.  There is opportunity. People do move up -- in both total income and class rank.  Economic success is not static.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "The Impossible Dream," Washington Post, November 28, 2007.

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