Monday, August 5, 2013

Do we have a race problem?


The Boston Globe reports a Pew poll which shows that in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, nine out of 10 African-Americans believe that there is not enough discussion of racial problems in the United States. Among whites two thirds believe that "the issue of race is getting too much attention."
And now there is the study coming out of Harvard and Berkeley that shows that upward mobility in the United States differs sharply in different locations. "Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data show, with the odds notably low in Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Memphis; Raleigh, N.C.; Indianapolis; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. In contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains, and West, including in Boston, New York, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and large swaths of California and Minnesota.”
The factors that seem to make a difference are identified as follows "All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods. Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups. Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers’ analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and black residents of Atlanta have low upward mobility, for instance.”
That last sentence made me sit up. The researchers, as presented by a NY Times reporter, are at pains to minimize the effects of race on upward mobility. The fact that white and black residents of Atlanta both have low upward mobility shows no more than that race is not the only reason for differential mobility. But look at some of the other reasons given: poor people living in neighborhoods where people are better off, are more likely to be upwardly mobile. Now ask yourself: are African American poor people as likely to be mixed into a neighborhood of more affluent white Americans as white American poor? The obvious answer is no.


Another hindrance to upward mobility is the quality of schools. Schools in black neighborhoods in many cities are a lot worse than they are in the white neighborhoods.
Another factor of low upward mobility has to do with families without a father. Again that is a much more frequent occurrence in black communities.
Without seeing this study and examining at in detail, I cannot say anything with certainty. But looking at the reports in the newspapers, it is difficult to resist the impression that once again the importance of race is being minimized—if not by the study itself, at least as by its presentation on the internet. We have here one more example of the majority of Americans not wanting to face up to our racial problem.

It is high time that we did.