2 Black Americas

Last Friday in honor of Dr. King’s death, Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post Columnist that I’ve read for over a decade wrote: 2 Black Americas
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On April 4, 1968, it was possible to make the generalization that being black in this country meant being poor; fully 40 percent of black Americans lived below the poverty line, according to census data, with another 20 percent barely keeping their heads above water. African Americans were heavily concentrated in the inner cities and the rural South. We were far less likely than whites to go to college, and our presence in the corporate world was minimal.

Today, about 25 percent of African Americans are mired in poverty. In many ways, being black and poor is a more desperate and hopeless condition now than it was 40 years ago. For those who managed to enter the middle class, however, most of the old generalizations no longer apply.

There remains a significant income gap between whites and blacks in this country, although it shrinks when educational level is factored in. But the gap in wealth, or net worth, is huge, even when you control for education, age, family size and whatever else you want to throw in. Still, African Americans control an estimated $800 billion in purchasing power. If that were translated into gross domestic product, a sovereign “Black America” would be the 15th- or 16th-richest nation on earth

Forty years ago, not even 2 percent of black households earned the equivalent of $100,000 a year in today’s dollars. Now, about 10 percent of black households have crossed that threshold. . . . Then again, if “The Jeffersons” were being produced today, George and Louise probably wouldn’t live in an apartment at all. More realistically, they’d be on a cul-de-sac in a suburban community. In Washington and a growing number of cities, more African Americans now live in the suburbs than within the city limits.

In a sense, then, the most striking measure of how far African Americans have come since 1968 isn’t the rise of Barack Obama. It’s the story of Stanley O’Neal. [Former CEO of Merrill Lynch]
. . . For those who haven’t made it into the middle class, however, things are different. . . The African American poor are a smaller segment than they were 40 years ago, but arguably they are further from full participation in society than they were in King’s era. It’s not that they have no interest in climbing the ladder, it’s that too many rungs are missing.

It’s misleading, then, to make any general statement about the condition of black Americans without recognizing black America’s diversity. Economically speaking, there is one group of black Americans that has achieved success and one that hasn’t — and the distance between those groups is growing. To make more progress toward Martin Luther King’s dream, we have to make an honest assessment of how far we’ve come — and honestly account for who’s been left behind.

Read the whole post here.

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