The Myth of Black Economic Progress

In a new book published by the Russell Sage Foundation, Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, contends that the record of Black economic progress over the past several decades is highly misleading. The data is misleading, according to Professor Pettit, because most of the statistics on income, education, employment and other socioeconomic indicators exclude the large number of Americans who are incarcerated in prisons and jails. And since a large percentage of those in prison and jail are African American men, the socioeconomic progress of African Americans is greatly overstated.

For example, Professor Pettit writes in Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, that if the entire prison population is included, the Black-White gap in high school completion rates has remained unchanged for the past two decades. If the prison population is include in the statistics on earnings, Pettit argues, the Black-White gap has grown over the past several decades.

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  1. Insight Center for Community Economic Development published a provocative report in 2009 related to this topic. Their report is titled “Laying the Foundation for National Prosperity: The Imperative of Closing the Racial Wealth Gap.” Following is one of the alarming facts presented:

    “The magnitude of the gap between white and non-white wealth is staggering. In 2007, the median Latino household had a net worth of $21,000 and the median African American household had a net worth of $17,100, compared with $170,400 for white households. (p. 6)

    This same group also wrote a report titled “Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future.” This 2010 release startles the mind with graspings such as the median wealth of black women ages 36-49 is only $5.00 compared to $42,600 for white women of the same age group. (p. 5)

    Vividly, our struggle continues. So must our courageous resolve in this modern era of lashed backs, chained ankles, bound hands: some self-derived, others systemic, all complex, yet all must be defeated.

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