NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Black Economic Progress Goes Unheralded

April 8, 2002

Media reports and the rhetoric of many black "leaders" seldom recognize the tremendous social, economic and educational achievements of American blacks over the past several decades. "Sociologists have somehow managed to blind themselves to the fact that there were changes for the better, and in terms of historical trends there were big changes," says Harvard University demographer Edward Glaeser.

Census data makes those changes evident:

  • The black poverty rate has dropped from 36 percent just 20 years ago to 22 percent in 2000.
  • Black household income in 1980 stood at just one-third of what it is today.
  • In 1980, barely one-in-two blacks over age 25 held a high school diploma -- compared to just under 80 percent now.
  • For blacks 25 to 29 years old, the figure is 86 percent -- the same as for whites.

And in less than 20 years, the number of black college graduates has doubled.

While blacks still have a way to go to catch up with whites in these categories, their progress has been amazingly swift by historical standards. The strides also point out that education has become a far better indicator of socioeconomic status than race.

Which is why critics say efforts to downplay or even dismiss black achievement are so disturbing. Blinkered civil rights leaders see only shortcomings, while liberal public servants play divisive politics - and too many conservatives ignore the issue altogether.

Source: Editorial, "The Good News on Race," Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2002.


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