New Study: Race Explains the Income Gap

As we’ve previously written on this blog, systemic racism is real, ubiquitous and insidious—and that, in our role as advisors to education leaders, we have an obligation to do something about it. A new study from researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the U.S. Census Bureau provides even more evidence for that position.

The authors examined racial and ethnic disparities in income across nearly the entire U.S. population from 1989-2015. What did they find? In short, that race—not class, education or parental marital status—is the strongest predictor of economic outcomes in the U.S. The study is extensive, and merits reading in full. Key takeaways include:

  • The racial wealth gap is truly ubiquitous. In 99% of neighborhoods in the United States, black boys have lower incomes than white boys when they reach adulthood. This is an important reminder that all communities—regardless of intent—are contributing to this reality.
  • The chances at upward mobility vary widely across race. The researchers found that, while approximately 11 percent of white children raised in the bottom quintile of wealth reached the top quintile in adulthood, only 2.5% of black children did. This suggests that, without additional interventions, the income gap is likely to only increase.
  • Economic outcomes are gendered. Though black men consistently earn less than white men, regardless of background, no such gap exists between black women and white women from similar backgrounds. This largely debunks the (dishearteningly persistent) claim that racial gaps can be explained by differences in cognitive ability.
  • Wealth does not protect black children from racial disparities. This gap is hardly isolated to lower-income neighborhoods—quite the contrary. Black children whose parents were in the top 1% of earners grew up to have incomes 12.4% lower than white children from similar backgrounds.

This study shows that racial disparities exist because of structural racism—not family structures, education levels, cognitive abilities, family income or anything else. As an organization committed to improving opportunities for students of color, our obligation to confront and dismantle white supremacy is even more urgent. We hope you’ll join us.

(Graphic from New York Times)


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