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Black Income Mobility: Racism or Family Culture?*

Tags: , , , black family, culture, economy, education, income, race, Uncategorized No comments

As a young psychologist in the early 1970s I learned that resolving the conflicts between the married parents led to “spontaneous” recovery for 90% of the children referred to me for treatment — without any direct treatment of the child. Restore order in the parent’s marriage and the children’s internal chaos and its resulting symptoms disappear.

One recent “progressive theme” in today’s discourse is racism targeted at Black Americans. A very good example from some of the best, brightest, and well-intentioned journalists can be seen in this New York Times Upshot article, entitled Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys”.   A similar piece on income mobility by ethnic background, using the same data set appeared a week later.

Before I criticize the direction of the articles because it avoids the most compelling data, let me be loud in my praise of the journalists and the analysis they are doing. It is wonderful. The New York Times must be praised for giving them the resources to do this quality of work. I invite you to use the it, by playing around with variables they make available.

Now let’s look at their case for racism against Blacks

1)    Looking at those who start out in the bottom quintile (the poor) clear ethnic disparities become apparent when I ran the numbers on their site. Black children struggle the most at making it into the “rich” quintile in adulthood and while (37%) stay in poverty (though American Indians do worst at 45%).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2)    Looking at those who start out in the top quintile (the rich) clear ethnic disparities are also apparent: Black children do worst at staying rich in their adulthood.

Is this racism?

The NYT editors clearly think so, given their title for the article “Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys” and by their quoting a professor who preaches this message:

“One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

I think the professor should study the articles and the data again: Some of the analysis and one of the charts points to the elephant in the room no one wants to name: marriage. It is politically very incorrect and flies in the face of the “progressive” interpretation of the data.

For instance, the article points out:

“The authors [of the underlying study from which the NYT data is drawn] including the Stanford economist Raj Chetty and two census researchers, Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter, tried to identify neighborhoods where poor black boys do well, and as well as whites. —The few neighborhoods that met this standard were in areas that showed less discrimination in surveys and tests of racial bias. They mostly had low poverty rates. And, intriguingly, these pockets — including parts of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, and corners of Queens and the Bronx — were the places where many lower-income black children had fathers at home. Poor black boys did well in such places, whether their own fathers were present or not. — The few areas in which black-white gaps are relatively small tend to be low-poverty neighborhoods with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks [emphasis added]. Black males who move to such neighborhoods earlier in childhood earn more and are less likely to be incarcerated. However, fewer than 5% of black children grow up in such environments.”

These neighborhoods are found in parts of DC and Maryland… close enough to where Professor Kendi of American University works.

But not everyone is happy with the implication that marriage might have something to do with it:

“That is a pathbreaking finding,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist whose books have chronicled the economic struggles of black men. “They’re not talking about the direct effects of a boy’s own parents’ marital status. They’re talking about the presence of fathers in a given census tract.”

But here is the stark reality: Marriage is making the difference in virtually every case (for Blacks, Whites, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Whites). Marriage is non-racist: its benefits apply across all races and its absence hurts across all races. But its absence is greatest in the Black family. Add to this the compounding effects of intergenerational marriage-intactness or non-intactness and the power of marriage and the destructiveness of its absence is multiplied.

The huge differences in rates of family intactness are visible in this NYT chart.[1]

On rates of marriage the poorest whites do better than the richest blacks. Poor white boys have a much higher chance of having their father present than rich black boys do. Is this racism?

Here is the national data across ethnic groups, from the American Community Survey (annual mini-census).

    These ratios have remained relatively stable over the last decade, and it is worth noting that the rate of marriage among Black men in 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, The Moynihan Report: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, was as high, if not higher than in the Asian family today (our most intact ethnic group). The following data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates the fall in marriage rates by level of education among black men aged 25-54 between 1070 and 2010.

From the analysis MARRI did in 2013 we know that marriage rates between the rich districts and the poverty tracts of the District of Columbia (North West vs. South East, DC) differ almost by 10 times (over 900%).  This chart above shows the increasing family disintegration (black men not marrying) that black children have experienced since 1970.

The NYT journalists are much more circumspect than their editors in drawing conclusions:

“African-Americans made up about 35 percent of all children raised in the bottom 1 percent of the income distribution. They made up less than 1 percent of the children at the very top. This picture captures both a source of racial inequality and a consequence of it. White children are more likely to start life with economic advantages. But we now know that even when they start with the same advantages as black children, white boys still fare better, only reinforcing the disparities seen here.”

But one aspect they left out: when you factor in marriage and family, Black children, on average, do not start life with the same advantages.

Here is what is really going on in large measure: Marital chaos has increased massively in the Black family over the last eighty years, and especially since the sexual revolution. Nobel Laureat Akerlof has published a study at Brookings Institute on this in 1996. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned about it in 1965 The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, known as the Moynihan Report. (He was vilified for daring to do this report when he was Assistant Secretary of Labor).

The data is incontrovertible. Here is what has happened to Black children since 1940.

Worse still the weakening of human and social capital is compounded over the generations.

Who is to blame? If you want to find blame… One major culprit is the National Organization of Women who very deliberately and vociferously set out to remove men from their families. Nowhere have they succeeded as they have in the Black Family. Yet they and their allies reign supreme in one major political party (and have many friends in the other).

Though no ethnic group is in the “saints” category, Black men and women have the worst track record at getting married and staying married.

Public policy is no great help here: You don’t go to government for love, especially not the tough love that marriage requires.

The Black Church is no help here either. I have addressed Black pastors’ meetings and discussed this with them. They agree. If they speak about marriage teaching what Moses taught, what their grandfathers and great grandfathers taught, and especially what Christ taught (they are Christian pastors) — they would lose their income! Many in their congregations would seek an easier pastor who would not upset the apple cart.

Is this racism? When black adults embrace family chaos? Most people would say they don’t choose it to be so and given their upbringing and early childhood experience within their families there is a lot of truth in that. You cannot choose what you do not experience many would say. But in this discussion, this does not hold. Many people who have not experienced being rich choose to be so and put in the massive effort to pull it off. Are black children urged to make it to the top? In school, in college, at church, by politicians, by the media, by student groups?

Does the same urging and encouragement happen on marriage? Look again at the abysmal rates of marriage among rich Black parents…. It is lower that poor white parents at the bottom of in income scale!

It is not easy to work a way out of cultural weakness. Without a pathway, leadership, and support it is impossible.

It does not take long to go from order to chaos — in anything. It takes a lot longer to go from chaos to order— in everything.

Getting to good kids who turn into strong adults requires the tough, suffering of marriage. Why “the suffering of marriage” — because if marriage was nothing but the effervescence of romance everyone would stay married forever. Learning to live with another, year after year, decade after decade is tough work. It makes for tough character… the requirement for moving up the income scale, staying there and holding onto it.

I pray that Black leaders (in church, in public school education, in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, in student associations, in the academy) stand up together and help each other say what needs to be said and— even more — do the long hard work of rebuilding Black marriages one at a time, generation after generation.

I hope the New York Times team (who were very prudent in their conclusion[2]) will continue their analysis and give us another treat in Upshot, this time including the variables of always-intact-marriage to permit us to analyze the data that way. I bet it will yield much clarity.

Racism has some influence, no doubt, but it is nothing compared to the weakening of black children visited upon them by the absence of marriage, by the absence of their biological fathers.[3] Marriage was one of the great strengths that have not been passed down to them by their parents, pastors and teachers. It used to be there.

Remove the chaos in parent’s marriage and children thrive — no matter the racial group. Leave the marital conflict unattended and the children wilt. Compound it over generations and the situation only gets worse. This is not racism. This is human nature.

For the good of the child – and the black child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan

Director of MARRI

[1] The title and the red inserts in the chart are my own, they are not part of the NYT original chart.

[2] “The research makes clear that there is something unique about the obstacles black males face. The gap between Hispanics and whites is narrower, and their incomes will converge within a couple of generations if mobility stays the same. Asian-Americans earn more than whites raised at the same income level, or about the same when first-generation immigrants are excluded. Only Native Americans have an income gap comparable to African-Americans. But the disparities are widest for black boys.”

[3] Though stepfathers are great and needed even they cannot (on average) cannot have the same impact as the married biological father. Again this is not a racist finding: it holds across ethnic groups. It is a human thing.

*An earlier Faith and Family Findings has more material related to this issue.

 

Black Family Structure

Baltimore, crime, family structure, intact family, race, violence No comments

By Henry Potrykus

In this blog, we recently announced the release of a MARRI overview on “Violence in Baltimore.”  In one part of the overview, we focused-in on black children in Baltimore.  I produced some statistics on the family life and poverty situation these children find themselves in. This post goes into further explanatory detail on that situation.

As background let’s quote from the report:

The city of Baltimore has just under 4,000 white 15- to 17-year olds.  Just over half— nearly 2,000— have seen the break-up of their family of origin.* This is in line with the national experience.

The experience of black Baltimore teens on the cusp of adulthood is different.  Over 15,000 have seen the break-up of their biological parents.  But only 1,500 black 15- to 17-year-old residents of Baltimore have not experienced that act of rejection.  So, for every one black teen of Baltimore who does not experience family rejection, there are ten who do.  More than 90 percent of black Baltimore teens on the cusp of adulthood witness parental rejection. 

Poverty in Baltimore is strongly influenced by this gaping calamity.  The influence of family intactness (for children of any age; see “The Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection”) on the probability of a child (0- to 17-years old) being poor dwarfs the influence of race.

The influence of parental rejection is also greater than that of living only with parents who have dropped out of high school.  The “adjusted mean” level of child poverty in Baltimore is about 29 percent.** Being black raises this rate of poverty by almost 9 percent.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school further raises this number by around 13 percent.  Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate of poverty by better than 15 percent, more than half the baseline rate of childhood poverty in the city.

Further Findings

Now, simple accumulation of the baseline, racial, and family relative risks of poverty, shows that family intactness brings childhood poverty among blacks in the city effectively down to the national level (around 22%).  (29 % + 9% – 15% yields less than 23%.)

In fact, the complete (technical) result is even stronger than this.  Intactness cuts poverty by more than half among black children in Baltimore.  (There is a 15 percent residual poverty rate for black children who live in their family of origin, which is below the average for the nation’s children as a whole.)***

Unsurprisingly for Baltimore, then, food stamp (SNAP) dependency and public healthcare (e.g., Medicaid) dependency are more strongly influenced by intactness than they are by the race a child is born into or by parents’ high school completion.

Regarding food stamp dependency: Family intactness shows itself to be more important than either race, or if parents have dropped out of high school. The “adjusted mean” rate of food stamp receipt in Baltimore is an impressive 42 percent for children. Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate of dependency by almost 17 percent.  Black children have a higher recipiency rate by almost 16 percent.  Statistically, then, intact families alleviate the need for Baltimore anti-hunger campaigns targeting minority children.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school raises this dependency rate by almost 9 percent.

For public healthcare dependency (in the years 2008 through 2013), intactness is also more important than either race, or if parents have dropped out of high school. The “adjusted mean” rate of public healthcare enrollment in Baltimore is a yet more impressive 61 percent for children. Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate again by around 17 percent.  Black children have a higher enrollment rate by almost 11 percent.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school raises the enrollment rate also by almost 9 percent.

These additional empirical facts make it plain: The major factor influencing the (difficult) condition that black children and teens on the cusp of adulthood find themselves in in Baltimore is the lack of family intactness.  This finding becomes plain by testing one influencing factor against the other – family intactness against education, intactness and education against race–as is reported on here. 

Does poverty or a lack of economic opportunity cause violence?  Perhaps dispossessed persons are more likely to riot.  Economics would certainly say that in the absence of strict-enough penalties the dispossessed are more likely to break things they don’t have an ownership interest in.  Want to fight black poverty or dispossession in Baltimore?  There’s an obvious place to start: The intact family unit.

Endnotes:

*Population counts, taken from the American Community Survey 2008-2013, are known to a precision of about +/- 200 kids.  There are 137,400 children (of any age) found in Baltimore.

**This mean is adjusted for race (i.e., if one is non-white), parents not being high-school graduates, and the intactness of a child’s family of origin.  The adjustment is computed by an ordinary least squares regression on sampled Baltimore children (N 6440; R^2 0.14). Only significant factors (p < 0.05) shall be reported for any regression.  I also tested models with controls for parental age.  The results are pretty much the same for race and family intactness’ influences (i.e. – to statistical uncertainty:  the influences reduce in magnitude by about 1.5 percent). There are fundamental, sociological reasons why these two factors behave this way; reasons I eschew elaborating on in this post.

***Intactness also nullifies most of the negative influences of having only parents who have dropped out of high school. (There is a 5 percent residual [pejorative] influence of parental education among black childhood poverty.  Intactness better than completely compensates for the influence of low parental education attainment among whites:  There is a 4 percent net reduction in poverty off the baseline when intactness is faced off against low education attainment among white parents.)

This is the result of the saturated model for the adjustment factors of the foregoing endnote (“mean adjustment computation”).

Racial Inequality and Family Breakdown

Census data, family structure, inequality, race No comments
In the 1960s radical groups, including many feminists, conspired to tear down the traditional, married family; little did they know they were simultaneously igniting some of the worst racial divisions America could imagine.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau on living arrangements analyzed by Nicholas Zill, 58 percent of U.S. children live with their married birth parents, followed by 23 percent that live with their birth mother (only), 5 percent that live with a birth parent and stepparent, 4 percent that live with cohabiting birth parents, and 4 percent that live with their birth father (only). Radical groups are slowly, but surely, falsely positioning marriage as a patriarchal ritual of the past.

Despite how passionately radicals argue that mothers do not need husbands or that romantic partners are fine cohabiting, marriage remains an indispensable institution that holds together the social fabric of our nation. Unfortunately, however, this fabric is fraying disproportionately across the races, as Zill illustrates.

According to the 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, 80 percent of Asian children live with their married birth parents, followed by 68 percent of White children and 52 percent of Hispanic children. Only 29 percent of Black children lived with their married birth parents in 2014. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 50 percent of Black children lived with their birth mother (only), followed by 27 percent of Hispanic children, 15 percent of White children, and 9 percent of Asian children.

The large variation in living arrangements across the four major race/ ethnic groups has deep-seated and far-reaching consequences on racial gaps. To begin, family structure is closely related to government dependence—roughly three quarters of welfare assistance goes to single-parent families. Family structure is also associated with educational achievement, the gateway to future economic success. Four times as many individuals who came from intact, married families received a Bachelor’s degree than individuals who came from always-single parent families. Those in single-parent families are more likely to engage in risk behavior, commit criminal acts, drink, and use drugs.

Because there is such a clear-cut difference in the living arrangements of the races, social outcomes are quite easily predictable across these four groups. While Asian families are able to exercise individual agency in flourishing environments, many Black families tend to be at the mercy of the government in dangerous environments. While most Asian parents begin their child’s life by developing and cultivating their talents, many Black parents spend their children’s early years struggling to make ends meet.

There certainly is an unjust inequality among the races, but it is not the inequality of outcome that most media outlets discuss. Rather, it is an inequality of opportunity, even a lost opportunity, for many children to experience the irreplaceable married love of their mother and father.

Wealth Inequality and Race

family structure, Great Recession, Pew Research, race, religion, wealth inequality No comments

According to a recent Pew report, the racial/ ethnic wealth divide has widened since the Great Recession. Commentators have already begun to speculate plausible rationales for this gap: inability for minorities to replenish savings, differences in financial assets, or disparate accumulations of wealth. But each of these explanations evades the two root issues at hand: family structure and frequency of religious worship.

Family structure. The intact, married family consistently produces the best economic benefits and averts financial woes. Pew’s report measured race/ ethnicity without controlling for family structure. Because the rate of family intactness is higher among whites (54 percent) than blacks (17 percent) and Hispanics (41 percent), “whites” as a racial class seemed best off.

However, as Chart 1 shows, family structure cannot be ignored. Marriage is associated with lower rates of poverty, independent of race. So, for example, the poverty rate for single white mothers is three times higher than the poverty rate for married black families. Further investigation will likely show that the true wealth divide following the Great Recession is between intact and non-intact families, especially single mothers on welfare. As Sheldon Danziger concluded back in 1986, families on welfare are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty because their income is disconnected from the market-based economy. Even if the economy improves, the welfare recipient’s income remains stagnant.

The importance of family structure in an improving economy is conveyed in the Iowa Youth and Families Project, widely regarded as having the richest archive of life record data on rural families and children in the United States. Over a series of decades, researchers collected data on two-parent families during and after the Iowa Farm Crisis—the worst decline in America since the 1930s. They found that the children from two-parent families from Iowa farms, despite faring worse than any other group, improved the most due to their strong family relations, productive roles, ties to grandparents, ties to their community, and resourcefulness. Recovery from the Great Recession is linked to similar familial and community factors.

Frequency of religious worship. The intact married family may fare well following economic recessions, but the intact married family that worships frequently will fare best during and after these times of difficulty. Couples whose marriages lasted 30 years or more reported that their faith helped them to deal with hard times, and was a source of moral guidance in making decisions and dealing with conflict. Adolescents whose mothers attend religious services at least weekly display better health, greater problem-solving skills, and higher overall satisfaction with their lives, regardless of race, gender, income, or family structure. An increase in religious practice is associated with greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life, and religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness.

Beyond personal hope and well-being, religiosity confers many benefits on society as a whole. Religious attendance is associated with direct decreases in both minor and major forms of crime and deviance, to an extent unrivalled by government welfare programs. Religious individuals are 40 percent more likely than their secular counterparts to give money to charities. Compared to their secular counterparts, religious individuals are more than twice as likely to volunteer. Recovering from a depleted economy requires communal support; this support is most readily available in communities with high levels of religious participation … something that is free to anyone who wants it.

Pew’s study of wealth inequality is certainly thought-provoking; however, it is futile to discover such gaps in society if we fail to cure their causes. Reviving all of society following the Great Recession mandates an immediate attention to restoring the intact married family that worships frequently.