As reported, the interesting numbers:
* Black adults have narrowed the gap with white adults in earning high school diplomas, but the gap has widened for college degrees. Thirty percent of white adults had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2005, while 17 percent of black adults and 12 percent of Hispanic adults had degrees.
* Forty-nine percent of Asian Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2005.
* The median income for white households was $50,622 last year. It was $30,939 for black households, $36,278 for Hispanic households and $60,367 for Asian households.
* Median income for black households has stayed about 60 percent of the income for white households since 1980. In dollar terms, the gap has grown from $18,123 to $19,683.
* Hispanic households made about 76 percent as much as white households in 1980. In 2005, it was 72 percent.
* The gap in poverty rates has narrowed since 1980, but it remains substantial. The poverty rate for white residents was 8.3 percent on 2005. It was 24.9 percent for black residents, 21.8 percent for Hispanic residents and 11.1 percent for Asian residents.
This is interesting in a large number of ways. For one thing, why does African American poverty and education statistics consistently lag behind all other non-white groups? Also of note, the striking success of Asian households, which now have a higher median income.
As usual, more refined numbers would be enormously helpful. In the African American community, is there a difference between native born African Americans and black immigrants from other countries? Why has the pay gap for African Americans stayed constant, but increased slightly for Hispanics? Do immigration and differences in birthrate impact the aggregated figures in a way that substantially alters the outcomes? (For example, does the fact that African American and Hispanic households are, on average, younger and more likely to be headed by a single parent or have one parent not present skew the aggregate results? Alternatively, does the aggregate result reflect the reality, but do these factors drive the results?)
But this is why I continue to believe that efforts to overcome such income gaps require a new framework. The persistance of poverty and lack of access to economic opportunities is clear. Eliminating de jure discrimination has not, as the neo-cons continue to predict, eliminated the impacts of de jure discrimination. We can and should reject the idea that a misguided notion of equality and social justice must blind us to a demonstrable and persistant reality.
At the same time, however, to simply respond "racism" (or "sexism") remains the problem is so broad as to be meaningless. Further, to the extent that overt (or even subconscious) racism remains a significant impediment, it operates in a far more complex manner than was the case previously. It also must explain why Asians are apparently able to overcome "racism" (at least as demonstrated by median income) while African Americans and Hispanics remain subject to its impacts (to an amazingly stable extent as compared with the 1980 benchmark). (In this regard, it would be very interesting to see the "Asian" numbers broken out. Only in the United States would we take an area covering 2.5 Billion people speaking hundreds of different languages, from countries frequently at war with each other, and lump them together as one ethnic group.)
Further, it is clear that the traditional mechanisms for addressing the income gap and education gap are not working. The stability and persistence of the gap over 25 years should require propoenents of traditional programs to explain what needs to change to make forward progress.
It is certainly my hope that a new Congress and new state governments, focusing on economic issues, will consider these questions. At the least, it is clear that the obstacles to economic advancement in the United States are having disproportionate impact on certain clearly identifiable populations. That is as much a danger to the nation as the growing gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us generally.