Income Inequality, Race and Ethnicity

Michael Holzman, Senior Research Consultant for The Schott Foundation for Public Education

There has been a good deal of media and governmental attention to the growing economic inequality in this country, but little has focused on the profound inequalities among the nation’s different racial groups. The chart below shows US Census data for the percentage of White, Non-Hispanic and Black householders at each income level:

The federal poverty level for a family of four includes the two sets of columns on the left. 22% of White, Non-Hispanic householders have incomes in that range, as do 39% of Black householders, nearly twice as many. (32% of Hispanic householders are in this group.) At the other extreme, 9.5% of White, Non-Hispanic householders have incomes of $150,000 or more, while less than one-third of that percentage—3%—of Black householders are in that group, as are 4% of Hispanic householders. The median income for White, Non-Hispanic householders was $54,461, that for Black householder $32,584 and for Hispanics, $38,039.

The middle class is comprised of the households at 50% on either side of the median. Conveniently, the median for all races is almost exactly $50,000. Middle class households, then, are those with incomes between $25,000 (just over the poverty line) and $75,000. To use the traditional terms for these groups, those with incomes below $25,000 per year are lower class and those with incomes above $75,000 are upper class. Approximately equal percentages (43%) of White, Non-Hispanic and Black householders have middle class incomes, but 35% of White, Non-Hispanic householders have upper class incomes, while only 18% of Black and 21% of Hispanic householders have achieved that level of income.

As we go up the income ladder we see that the disparity in distribution of White, Non-Hispanic and Black householder incomes becomes more severe.

Discussions of socio-economic issues that do not include a racial perspective for the United States miss a vital component of the picture.

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