Half a Century After Passing of Civil Rights Act, Black Mobility Remains Low

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Job seekers wait in line to enter a job fair on March 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Job seekers wait in line to enter a job fair on March 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Half a century after the Civil Rights Act committed the federal government to narrowing the racial divide, black Americans are still being left behind.

Blacks remain less likely to climb the income ladder and more likely to drop than whites, according to research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago last month. It also found that blacks will probably continue to suffer from lower mobility unless the causes of the disparities are addressed.

Such stagnation isn’t just troubling in the framework of American history — it’s bad for the economy, said Richard Reeves, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. If blacks don’t have the opportunity to rise, income inequality will become more severe, labor markets more inefficient and welfare rolls more burdened.

“It’s nice to look at Obama and the higher-profile African Americans who have done well, but the U.S. is very far from being a post-racial society,” Reeves said in an interview. “Crudely, we can’t afford to maintain such sharp divides in the life chances of black and white Americans.”

Fissures persist since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, forbidding discrimination on the basis of race and sex in hiring, job advancement and firing as well as banning segregation in public accommodations.

At 11.6 percent, the unemployment rate for blacks in April was more than double whites’ 5.3 percent. The spread is little changed from where it was in 1990. The median income of black households was $33,321 in 2012, about 58 percent of the $57,009 for whites. In 1972, the comparable figures were $5,938 and $10,318, also 58 percent.

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Source: Bloomberg | Victoria Stilwell

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