Over the past century, the life expectancy and education levels of African Americans have skyrocketed
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At the turn of the 20th century, a white American newborn baby could expect to live around 48 years. It was 15 years older than a newborn African American could expect. Improvements in hygiene, medicine and other public health measures have caused these figures to increase considerably. By mid-century, the life expectancy of African Americans had nearly doubled to 61, while for white Americans it stood at 69. By 2017, the gap had narrowed further to three. and a half years: 75.3 for African Americans, 78.8 for whites. But Hispanic Americans survive them both, at an average of 81.8 years. In other words, both races have progressed significantly, but gaps remain. This same model exists in a number of measures.
The most disturbing aspect of this pattern is not only the persistent gap between results between black and white Americans, although it has narrowed considerably. This is because, as the work of Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both economists at Princeton, showed, life expectancy fell for all demographic groups of Americans between 2014 and 2017 for the first time. times since 1993. The rise in death rates has been particularly austere for whites without a college degree, due to what they call “deaths of desperation”: drug overdoses, suicide, and illnesses caused by heavy drug use. alcohol.
And yet, as the second graph shows, many more whites than Hispanics or African Americans have college degrees. Asian Americans come out on top, as the only racial group for which a majority of members have graduated from college. Over the past century, as a college degree has become increasingly important to earning a middle-class salary, the share of graduates in each racial category has grown steadily, and more or less in tandem. In 1910, only 2.7% of all Americans over 25 had a bachelor’s degree. In 1940, the first year for which there is racial comparative data, nearly four times as many whites as black Americans had graduated from college, but the shares were still small: only 4.9% of whites and 1.3% African Americans. Today, 40% of Whites, 19% of Hispanics, and 26% of African Americans over 25 do so.
These two measures are less encouraging. Despite slight fluctuations, the homeownership rate for whites has hovered around 70% since 1976. Like that of others, it increased during the 2000s, then fell in the middle of the decade after the collapse. of the housing market, but remained within fairly narrow limits. Track. The share of African Americans who own a home, however, is significantly lower than that of whites, and has remained for decades.
For decades, redlining – the practice of restricting people because of their race to certain neighborhoods and then denying them financial services – has restricted African Americans to neighborhoods where the value of their housing was inferior, which also limited their ability to obtain mortgages. The legacy of this practice has had long-term adverse effects on the ability of African Americans to accumulate wealth. Not only are more whites having a house (or the associated wealth) to pass on to their children. These homes tend to be worth more, giving white families a reserve of wealth to cultivate and borrow against what African Americans lack. The average African American family is about a tenth of the wealth of the average white family. It’s also less than the average Hispanic family, although about a third of American Hispanics are foreign-born.
The culprit behind this gap is not work. Whites and African Americans have roughly similar participation rates (the sum of all adults employed or actively seeking work, divided by the total number of adults not incarcerated for each group), and both are lower than those of Latinos.
The incarceration rates reveal an equally grim disparity. In 2019, African Americans made up 12% of America’s adult population, but 33% of its prison population (in American parlance, “jail” is where convicted persons serve their sentences; “jail” is reserved for people awaiting trial or serving short sentences). In 2003, the gap in incarceration rates between white and black Americans was larger than it was in 1850, long before the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Since then, thanks to falling crime rates and sentencing reform, the population of America’s prisons and prisons has shrunk, although the gap between the proportion of white and black Americans imprisoned remains huge.