Fifty years after the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — better known as the Kerner Commission — delivered a groundbreaking report to President Lyndon B. Johnson citing the lack of economic opportunity in African-American communities as a chief cause of civil unrest in the country, African Americans are still economically disadvantaged compared to whites, an issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute finds.
The brief, Fifty Years After the Kerner Commission (8 pages, PDF), found that while 92.3 percent of African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 have earned a high school diploma — up from 54.4 percent in 1968 — and 22.8 percent have a college degree — up from 9.1 percent fifty years ago — African Americans are still half as likely as their white peers to have a college degree. The report also found that improvements in educational attainment have led to absolute increases in wages, incomes, wealth, and health for African Americans, but that they remain at a disadvantage relative to white Americans: in 2017, for example, African Americans earned 82.5 cents for every dollar white workers made, while the unemployment rate for African Americans was 7.5 percent, compared with 3.8 percent for white Americans. Moreover, the median wealth of African-American families today ($17,409) is just 10.2 percent of the median wealth of white families ($171,000), while the homeownership rate among African Americans remains unchanged at just over 41 percent, even as white homeownership has increased by 5.2 percentage points, to 71.1 percent.
According to the analysis, there has been a significant decline in infant mortality rates for African Americans over the last fifty years, from 34.9 per 100,000 in 1968 to 11.4 per 100,000 in 2017, although the rate for African-American babies is 2.3 times higher than for white babies. But over the same period the incarceration rate for African Americans has tripled, from 604 per 100,000 in 1968 to 1,730 per 100,000, and while the rate for white Americans has also increased, from 111 per 100,000 to 270 per 100,0000, African Americans are 6.4 times as likely as white Americans to be incarcerated.
"Black Americans have clearly put a tremendous amount of personal effort into improving their social and economic standing," said Valerie Wilson, director of EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy and a co-author of the report, "but that effort only goes so far when you're working within structures that were never intended to give equal outcomes."