African Americans

Poverty is a drag for middle-income black youth

NYU (US)—Nearly half of black children classified as middle income are still raised in neighborhoods with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more, a new Pew report shows, greatly increasing their risk of downward mobility.

Only 1 percent of white children at the same income level grow up in poverty, according to the study by New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey.

Commissioned by the Pew Economic Mobility Project, the study points to a significant disparity between black and white children whose families are at least at the middle income level of $62,000 or more.

Further, the effect of neighborhood poverty alone accounts for a greater portion of the black-white gap than the combined effect of family characteristics including parental education, family structure, occupation, and labor force participation, Sharkey says.

While most research on how economic and social status are transmitted from parents to children focuses on factors within the home or workplace, Sharkey says, his findings “provide support for the idea that neighborhoods, communities, and metropolitan areas are central to processes of economic mobility.”

Spending childhood in a high-poverty neighborhood (poverty rate of at least 20 percent) versus a low-poverty neighborhood (poverty rate of less than 10 percent), raises the chances of downward mobility by 52 percent the study reports.

“Neighborhoods matter—and matter significantly for the mobility prospects of Americans, says John Morton, managing director of Pew’s Economic Policy Department. “But black children from middle-income families who often live in poorer neighborhoods, have a much higher likelihood of falling down the ladder as adults. Unfortunately, these same neighborhoods have been among the hardest hit in the current recession.”

The report used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which has repeatedly collected information on family income and other characteristics from individuals since 1968. The PSID is operated by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

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