AFRICANGLOBE – Racial disparities in social and economic outcomes exist in all parts of the United States. Black Americans make about 62 cents for every dollar earned by white Americans. Black Americans are also twice as likely to be unemployed and considerably more likely to live in poverty.
In some places, these disparities are even more pronounced. In many of the worst states for Black people, there are opportunities to get a good job, earn good pay, and buy a home in a good community. However, these opportunities are not uniformly accessible across racial lines. Based on an examination of a number of socio-economic measures, 24/7 Wall St. identified the worst states for Black Americans.
According to Dr. Valerie Wilson, Program Director on Race and Ethnicity in the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, “You’re never going to find a state or city where the outcome for Blacks are better than for whites.” For centuries, there have been stark differences in the conditions and opportunities Black Americans have faced.
The Civil Rights Movement led to hopes that racial inequality would soon end. The movement led to a series of reforms, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other legislation, known as the “Great Society.” Over the following 50 years, however, further advances have been modest at best.
According to Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Senior Director of the Economic Department at the NAACP Financial Freedom Center, “It’s one thing to end segregation, but it’s another thing to talk about billions of dollars of investment.” When the United States invested in a middle class in the 1940s and 1950s, it was in a white middle class, explained Asante-Muhammad. However, the country was “never willing to do that same type of investment to create a middle class that would be inclusive of African Americans.”
The effects of this unwillingness to invest in the Black community are clear in the racial economic outcome gaps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, the national jobless rate for November was 5.8% nationwide. Among white Americans, the figure was 4.9%. Among Black Americans it was 11.1%.
Segregation also creates different communities with different social services. The quality of schools, property values, the quality of services available, and the quality of food are all “legacies of racially segregated neighborhoods in this country,” said Wilson. Six of the worst states were home to nearly half of the 30 most segregated U.S. cities, according to a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study on racial segregation in large metropolitan areas.
Few factors do more to improve people’s livelihoods than access to good jobs. High employment rates contribute to higher incomes, better health insurance coverage, as well as lower poverty rates. In eight of the worst states for Black Americans, the difference between Black unemployment rates and that of the whole workforce was higher than the national difference. Black Americans in these states also tended to have higher poverty rates, lower incomes, and lower educational attainment rates than both their white peers and Black residents in other states.
The obstacles facing Black Americans in the United States begin in early childhood — and they have long-lasting effects. Educational outcomes among African American children in five of the worst states for Black Americans were identified by the foundation as worse than the average for African-American children nationwide.
Nationally, less than one in five Black adults had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, versus a rate of nearly one in three among the white population. While the percentage of Black adults with at least a bachelor’s degree in some of the states on our list was relatively high, the education gap between Black and white state residents was larger than the national gap in nine of the worst states.
Although higher education leads to higher employment and better wages, it “does not eliminate inequality,” said Wilson. The unemployment rate among college-educated Black Americans is still about twice that of college-educated white Americans.
Of course, there is no single solution to job inequality. Even highly educated Black Americans cannot overcome centuries of segregation and outright discrimination. Both Wilson and Asante-Muhammad pointed out that many people are hired because they know someone, for example. If Black Americans are not part of a particular social network, their chances of getting hired at a particular job are smaller. For people who have been historically segregated, four years of elite schooling is not the same thing as “having generation after generation that can connect you to different opportunities through friends and family,” Asante-Muhammad explained.
Inequalities in economic outcomes also persist. A typical Black household made just 62.3% of the median income of white households in 2013. Among the worst states, differences in income and poverty were nearly all worse than the national difference. In some states, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, the median income of Black households was roughly half that of white households.
The economic gaps may actually be understated. This is because wealth, which includes assets, such as stocks and real estate holdings, as well as ready access to credit, are not captured by measures of income alone and can often have greater effects on racial inequalities. “Wealth is that which allows you to bridge economic challenges and difficulties,” such as periods of unforeseen expenses or job loss, Asante-Muhammad explained. Wealth is also used to acquire assets like homes and businesses, which are often transferred intergenerationally.
In fact, less than 42% of Black households were homeowners, while more than 71% of white households owned a home as of 2013. Differences in rates of homeownership are often far more extreme in the worst states for Black Americans. In Minnesota, for example, three out of four white households owned their homes. Meanwhile, only one in four Black households in the state owned their home.
Laws can also have a discriminatory effect on Black Americans. For example, longer sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine — which are essentially identical — contributed to the disproportionate incarceration rates of Black Americans. Wilson explained that crack cocaine was “an epidemic in the African American community.” Because the problem “was more prevalent in those communities, they were disproportionately affected by the sentencing associated with that.” In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress reduced the sentencing disparity.
Black Americans were more than five times as likely to go to prison than their white peers as of 2013, and the problem was considerably worse in all 10 states on our list. People with criminal records are more likely to get lower-paying jobs. Further, “When you’re in a community where there is a lack of economic opportunities, people seek alternatives, and unfortunately a lot of those alternatives are criminal,” Wilson said.
While racial inequality is a complicated issue, this does not mean that there are no solutions. “Even if we ended the over-incarceration of African Americans, we’d still have this great racial economic inequality that really will only be dealt with through massive investments, living wage jobs, homeownership opportunities, equal access to education, health care, all of those things, so there is no one solution. It’s not just education, it’s not just health care, it’s a mixture,” Asante-Muhammad said.
These are the worst states for Black Americans.
> Pct. residents black: 15.7%
> Black homeownership rate: 42.8% (15th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,432 per 100,000 people (24th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 16.5% (tied-4th highest)
> Unemployment rate, all people: 7.8% (14th highest)
Arkansas is among the worst states for black Americans. Nearly 16% of Arkansas’ population identifies as black. Yet, the state does not have a single black representative in Congress. In addition to limited representation, black Arkansas residents are disproportionately likely to be unemployed. Last year, the state’s unemployment rate for black workers was 16.5%, versus a 7.8% unemployment rate of the state’s labor force. In general, upward income mobility is more limited for Americans living in the South, according to research from the Equality of Opportunity Project. In Arkansas’ largest urban area, Little Rock, the odds of reaching the top income quintile for a person born in the bottom quintile was just 5.4%, well-below the U.S. rate overall. Economic mobility may be even more difficult for black Americans, who, on average, earn less than 60% the median household income of white Americans.