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Income Gap Between Blacks, Whites Expands

Redefining What It Means to Be Black in America

Critics have long decried the "hip-hop" image of pimps, thugs and criminals that seems to define black cultural images in the media. A new poll of black attitudes suggests a growing number of black Americans agree.

The poll finds that a growing number of black Americans think it's no longer appropriate to think of black people as a single race. Many also say that weak families — not racism — is what's keeping poor blacks down today. NPR's Juan Williams, who was written frequently on race, reflects on the findings. Read his essay.

The income gap between black and white families has widened in spite of the gains of the civil rights movement, according to a new study released Tuesday.

While incomes have increased among both black and white families in the past three decades — mainly because more women are in the work force — the gain is greater among whites.

The study, based on data from some 2,300 families during the past three decades, shows a black family's income in 2004 was a little more than half that of a similar white family's.

A key reason for the disparity is that incomes among black men have declined when adjusted for inflation. They were offset only by gains among black women.

But incomes among white women increased more than fivefold while those of white men were relatively stagnant.

Disparities in the American Dream

Julia Isaacs, a fellow at the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, wrote a series of three reports that looked at the incomes of parents in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and of their grown children 30 years later. She used survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is conducted at the University of Michigan.

"Overall, incomes are going up. But not all children are benefiting equally from the American dream," Isaacs said.

All parents want to see their children become successful and in even better stead than theirs. Hopes were particularly high for black children who came of age following the struggles of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Grown black children were just as likely as whites to have higher incomes than their parents. However, incomes among whites increased greatly over those of their black counterparts.

Playing Field not Equal for Blacks, Whites

In 2004, a typical black family had an income that was 58 percent of a typical white family's. In 1974, median black incomes were 63 percent of those of whites.

"Too many Americans, whites and even some blacks, think that the playing field has indeed leveled," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

It has not, he said. "We are like fingers on the hand," Morial said of black and white Americans. "We are on the same hand, but we are separate fingers."

He attributes the disparities to inadequate schools in black neighborhoods, workplace discrimination and too many black families led by one parent.

Isaacs found that one in three black children from middle-income families grew up to have higher incomes than their parents. Among whites, about two-thirds of the children from middle-income families grew up to have higher incomes than their parents, she said.

Isaacs compiled the reports for the Economic Mobility Project, a collaboration of senior economists and researchers from four Washington think tanks that span the ideological spectrum. The project is funded and managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press