Baby Bonds: A Plan for Black/White Wealth Equality Conservatives Could Love?
Darrick Hamilton calls for spreading the benefits of asset-ownership to all Americans.
Darrick Hamilton calls for spreading the benefits of asset-ownership to all Americans.
If Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” and Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You perfectly distill the absurd comedy and violent hell of the United States circa 2018, then Madeleine Baran’s In the Dark does the same in podcast form. The audio-documentary series dropped the haunting final episode of its second season earlier this month, and, like Donald Glover’s and Riley’s works, Baran’s opus lays bare the nexus of racial anxiety, guns, criminal “justice,” and capitalism in our nation.
In the Dark is produced by APM Reports and hosted by lead reporter Baran, who helms an investigative team of a half dozen journalists who work on a single story for a year. Season 1investigated the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota. Wetterling’s fate went unsolved for almost 27 years, during which he became the poster child for dangerous misconceptions about child kidnappings. But unlike the purveyors of many true-crime series, Baran and her team do not hype hysteria. Rather, they reveal how those in positions of power—like the local sheriff, politicians, and huckster John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted—were incompetent and exploitative of the Wetterlings. (Danny Heinrich, an early but largely unpursued suspect, confessed in 2016 as part of plea deal over child-pornography charges.)
One of the most famous instances of a threatened white woman leading to a black person’s death is Carolyn Bryant. Bryant lived in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 when she accused a 14-year-old boy of following her behind the counter of the store she co-owned, grabbing her waist and bragging that he had been with white women before. Later that evening, her husband and brother-in-law found this boy, forcefully took him from his relative’s home, lynched him and threw his body in the Tallahatchie River. The men were never convicted and later confessed to the murder a year later. The boy’s name, of course, was Emmett Till, and his death galvanized the civil rights movement.
Black Americans born poor are much less likely to move up the income ladder than those in other racial groups, especially whites. Why? Many factors are at work, including educational inequalities, neighborhood effects, workplace discrimination, parenting, access to credit, rates of incarceration, and so on.
But gender is a big part of the story too, as detailed in a new paper from the Equality of Opportunity Project, “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective” by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie Jones, and Sonya Porter. As always, there is a huge amount of data and analysis in the new paper. But the big finding is that race gaps in intergenerational mobility largely reflect the poor outcomes for black men. The report is another contribution to the growing literature showing that race gaps in the intergenerational persistence of poverty are in large part the result of poor outcomes for black men.
“We conclude based on the preceding analysis that the black-white intergenerational gap in individual income is substantial for men, but quite small for women. It is important to note, however, that this finding does not imply that the black-white gap in women’s individual incomes will vanish with time. This is because black women continue to have substantially lower levels of household income than white women, both because they are less likely to be married and because black men earn less than white men.” (p. 23)
In an attempt to estimate the impact of different marriage rates, Chetty et al. calculate the intergenerational mobility rates of black and white men raised in both single parent and married families, and find little difference. As they conclude, “parental marital status has little impact on intergenerational gaps” (p. 25).
In a new paper published today, we examine the same question in a different way. (See our longer Technical Paper here, and full Results here). We confirm the stark differences in upward earnings mobility for black men compared to both black women and whites. We also confirm that black women, despite their solid earnings mobility, have very low family income mobility. We then estimate the impact of racial differences in marriage rates by simulating higher marriage rates among black women: like Chetty, we find no significant effects.
Specifically, Chetty et al. show that black men born to low-income parents are much more likely to end up with a low individual income than black women, white women, and—especially—white men. As they write:
Black and white children are born into very different economic circumstances. Almost half of black boys and girls are in households in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, compared to just over one in ten white children:
There are, then, huge race gaps in the chances of being born to or raised in a poor family—gaps that were scarcely lower among children born in the early 1980s than they were among those born in the years around 1960. But what about the chances of escaping poverty as an adult?
Using data on 4,200 black and white Americans from the NLSY97, we find that over half (54 percent) of black men born into households in the poorest fifth of the family income distribution end up, as individuals, in the poorest fifth of the earnings distribution for their respective gender, between the ages of 28 and 35, compared to the minority of white men (22 percent), white women (29 percent), and black women (34 percent).
In terms of their individual earnings, black women have similar odds of escaping poverty as white women, though both these groups lag behind the upward mobility of white men. These analyses don’t consider the income of other family members, however. What happens when we look instead at adult family income, as opposed to individual earnings? A very different picture emerges for black Americans:
Black women face a very high risk of being stuck in poverty (62 percent), surpassing even the 50 percent risk faced by black men. For whites, the odds of remaining stuck in poverty remain relatively low, for both men (28 percent) and women (33 percent), when we use a family income measure.
The headline finding here is that, among those who grew up poor, black women are the only group showing a marked difference between the risk of being in the bottom quintile of the individual earnings distribution (for each gender), and the risk of being in the bottom quintile of the family incomedistribution (for the whole age cohort). Whites do well on both counts; black men do poorly on both counts. Black women do reasonably well on the first and very poorly on the second. This result is probably driven by the fact that black women tend to create families with black men who do poorly on both counts and thus bring down the family income results for black women.
Why? Various explanations could be given. The most obvious is that, assuming marriages or cohabitation mostly occur within racial groups, black women’s family position is damaged directly or indirectly by the poor outcomes for black men. If white women end up with white men, who in terms of their earnings are more than twice as likely to escape poverty as black men, their family income will be higher. Equally, if black women are more likely than white women to end up as single, they will also record a lower family income.
We set out to model the impact of household formation by artificially equalizing the marriage rates of black women and white women. The results will of course depend not just on whether they marry, but also on whom they marry. In our simulation, we assume that the additional women who are married have a husband with the same economic characteristics as their brother (see the Technical Paper for our detailed methods). The intuition here is that most people are likely to marry someone with a broadly similar background as themselves, and siblings, by definition, have an almost identical one. The results of this equal-marriage-rate simulation are as follows:
Our results strongly echo those of the Chetty team. So what conclusions can be drawn? Chetty’s team are blunt, writing that “the key to closing income disparities for both black and white women is to close intergenerational gaps in income between black and white men.”
This is certainly one of the most important implications of both their study and our own. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty for black Americans requires a transformation in the economic outcomes for black men, particularly in terms of earnings. One important point here: the relationship between earnings and marriage runs in both directions. Married men tend, other things equal, to earn more: one study of identical twins suggests that being married raises earnings by one-fourth. Married men may feel more responsibility to provide economically for their families, and especially their children. Low marriage rates may therefore have some impact on earnings.
It is also clear that the vast inequalities by race cannot be alleviated by upward mobility alone. Black girls are, relatively speaking, more likely to move out of poverty in terms of their own earnings. However, we should keep in mind the sheer number of black children being raised in low-income households in the first place. Closing the race gaps in upward mobility will require wholesale shifts in economic outcomes, perhaps above all for men’s earnings.
Scott Winship is a former Brookings Institution fellow, now at the Joint Economic Committee. His contributions to this report ended before he took his current position. The authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person for this article or from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this article. Winship is an honorary advisor for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and the Archbridge Institute. Other than the aforementioned, the authors are currently not an officer, director, or board member of any organization with an interest in this article.
“The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age . . .
. . . “The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism.” . . .
This essay is the introduction to Boston Review’s print issue, Race Capitalism Justice. Inspired by Cedric Robinson’s work on racial capitalism, this themed issue is a critical handbook for racial justice in the age of Trump.
“Robinson’s critique of political order and the authority of leadership anticipated the political currents in contemporary movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter—movements organized horizontally rather than vertically. His monumental Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (1983) takes Karl Marx to task for failing to comprehend radical movements outside of Europe. He rewrites the history of the West from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century, scrutinizing the idea that Marx’s categories of class can be universally applied outside of Europe. Instead he characterized black rebellions as expressions of what he called the “Black Radical Tradition,” movements whose objectives and aspirations confounded Western social analysis. Marxism also failed to account for the racial character of capitalism. Having written much of the book during a sabbatical year in England, Robinson encountered intellectuals who used the phrase “racial capitalism” to refer to South Africa’s economy under apartheid. He developed it from a description of a specific system to a way of understanding the general history of modern capitalism . . .
Robinson was a challenging thinker who understood that the deepest, most profound truths tend to bewilder, breaking with inherited paradigms and “common sense.” When asked to define his political commitments, he replied, “There are some realms in which names, nomination, is premature. My only loyalties are to the morally just world; and my happiest and most stunning opportunity for raising hell with corruption and deceit are with other Black people.”