Race & Wealth Gap

I heard something truly disgusting last night. The worst part is that I heard it on NPR.

Several guests were discussing how poverty and the wealth gap have increased and how it has increased the most among minorities. One factor given was that blacks are disproportionately employed in government jobs which have been hit the hardest because of funding cuts. One of the guests had the audacity to portray government jobs as just another welfare for blacks. He was arguing that even blacks who work hard for their money still are just being lazy welfare recipients. WTF! In the eyes of a bigot, minorities can’t win for losing.

He said this on the supposedly ‘liberal’ NPR. Did any of the other guests challenge his racism? No. Did the host demand he explain why he made such a racist comment? No. Apparently, no one on this NPR show thought it was unusual or immoral to express such bigoted views on public radio. I’m sure they were all upper class white people.


Figure 3: Income and wealth by race in the U.S.


It’s a myth that should be put to rest by the economic experience of the African American community over the past 20 years. Because what Kern and other adherents of the “culture of poverty” thesis can’t explain is why blacks’ economic fortunes advanced so dramatically during the 1990s, retreated again during the Bush years and then were completely devastated in the financial crash of 2008.

In order to buy the cultural story, one would have to believe that African Americans adopted a “culture of success” during the Clinton years, mysteriously abandoned it for a “culture of failure” under Bush and finally settled on a “culture of poverty” shortly after Lehman Brothers crashed.

That’s obviously nonsense. It was exogenous economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of “black culture,” that resulted in those widely varied outcomes.


It’s crucial to understand the relationship between wealth accumulated over generations and one’s economic prospects today. Central to that relationship is the concept of “intergenerational assistance.” That’s a fancy way of saying that a person’s chances to advance economically are very much impacted by whether his or her family can help get him or her started on the path to prosperity.

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