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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington. Neal Conan is away this week.
Many Americans like to think of the United States as a land of opportunity; a country where anyone can accrue wealth if they work hard enough, pass it on to their kids who can then enjoy a better standard of living than they did.
But a new study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that many more whites benefit from the promise of upward mobility than blacks. The study tracked more than 2,000 families for about three decades, and among the findings, nearly half of African-Americans born to middle-income families plunge into poverty. What's going on here? Why the difference? And what can be done to help more African-American share the dream of upward mobility? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
And joining us now is Julia Isaacs, she's the child and family policy fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington, and she's the author of the economic mobility study funded by the Pew Trusts.
Julia, welcome to the program.
Ms. JULIA ISAACS (Child and Family Policy Fellow, Brookings Institute): It's good to be here.
BROOKS: It's good to have you.
So flush, if you would - flush out, if you would, this key finding. What does the report say about the chances of upward mobility for blacks and whites?
Ms. ISAACS: Well, we found that overall, two out of three Americans have higher incomes than their parents, which is what you would expect from a growing economy that each generation would do better than the one before it. Then, we looked at it more closely by race. And let me focus on families in the very middle of the income distribution.
Ms. ISAACS: We found that for white children in the middle, two out of three did better than their parents, just as we found for the society overall. However, for black children, only one out of three did better than their parents. In other words, a majority have lower family income than their parents.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. And it's quite dramatic because that one out of three, they're born of middle-income parents, correct? And they pretty much drop into a sort of lower-income world?
Ms. ISAACS: Yes. So these are - they were children in 1968. And back at 1968, their parents had income - well, let me put it in 2006 dollars, they had incomes of about 40 - sorry, this print is so small - 40 - 43,000 to about - print is too small - median income of about $56,000 dollars. So, these were not poor families, and you might expect that they would be passing along their economic advantages to their children. And some of them are, but a majority of them are not.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Now, another finding that was interesting, you found increased income for both black and white women, but it was particularly higher for white women. And that accounted to the overall increase, correct?
Ms. ISAACS: Yeah. Well, we are looking at the growth in family incomes that we'd seen over this period, and then looking more closely at men and women. And men's income, both white men and particularly black men, had flat or actually declining incomes. So what's driving the growth in family incomes for both groups is the strong growth in women's earnings as they're entering the labor force in increasing numbers.
Ms. ISAACS: And as you were saying, the growth for white women is particularly strong. We compared women in 1974 and 2004. And back in 1974, non-Hispanic white women had median income of only $4,000. And now, in 2004, it's risen to $22,000. So quite an increase.
Ms. ISAACS: For black women, the increase was from 12,000, so it was higher than white women back in 1974 to 21,000 now.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. What does the report say about progress in reducing the gap in family income between blacks and whites? I mean, has there been any progress made in that?
Ms. ISAACS: Not very - no, not really progress. As I've just said, the men's incomes have - this is - we're looking at people in their 30s to kind of get a certain generation we're looking at. And men's incomes have been flat, women's incomes have been rising, white women's incomes have been rising more than black women's incomes. So the net effect is that family incomes are - have not been rising - have been rising more for white families than black families.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Does the data, which - the study, which tracked data over 30 years, show any movement one way or another in the course of those three decades? In other words, was there a time during the period when income disparity seem to lessen or increase, or did it not - did you not look at it that way?
Ms. ISAACS: In one place, we did. Yes, there have been some movements up and down with the economic cycle. We focus on 1974 and 2004 in this piece of the analysis. And in 2004, family income for African-Americans was 58 percent that of white families.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. And any ideas does the report go in to any of these as to why there has been such little progress toward closing this income gap between whites and blacks?
Ms. ISAACS: What we're doing in this report is sort of laying out basic statistics about mobility. We feel that the whole - as you've said, the American dream is all about mobility, but yet we don't have a basic sense of how it's working. So this is more descriptive statistics, and we did not structure the report to go into underlying factors.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Do you have any theories about that?
Ms. ISAACS: Well, we looked at some of the - we did do a literature review, looking at the - some of the differences we're controlling for income…
Ms. ISAACS: …but we're not controlling for other differences. So, for example, one researcher has looked at the large differences in wealth that even when you control for, you know, your annual income, there still are - between whites and blacks, there still are large differences in wealth, such as homeownership.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. We're talking to Julia Isaacs. Julia Isaacs, she's author of economic mobility studies for the Pew Foundation. And we're talking about the difference between black and white families and how they - the possibility of upward mobility is vastly different. You can give us a call at 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK.
And let's take a call. Let's go to Jim(ph) who's calling from Charlotte, North Carolina.
JIM (Caller): Thank you. Yes, I would like to ask your guest. Although I don't disagree with the findings - and they're tragic in nature - what about the whites and blacks from rural societies? Because, you know, I come from a rural society, and I'm sorry I have totally disagree with her findings because whites and blacks from rural society suffer disproportionately and about on an equal plane with each other. When you're talking about Appalachia and places like that, I don't see how the study applies to those people. All you have to do is simply drive through where there's 70 percent unemployment, and I just don't see that upward mobility.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Well, Jim, let me put that question to Julia.
Julia, did your study take into account the kind of distinction that Jim is talking about, that is rural white society versus the rest of the white society?
Ms. ISAACS: So our data set has about 2,000 families, which would not be enough to sort of split it out to that level of detail. But let me add that - so when we say two out of three families are doing better than their parents, one out of three are not.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Jim, does that answer the question in anyway?
JIM: Well, it's just - I think a lot of studies tend to ignore - I think all too much, we characterize white being wealthy and black being poor, which is unfortunate because I know of many black families who are of middle class and upper class than myself. And, you know, I'm a struggling middle-class person myself but, you know, I think we need to be wary of statistic because most certainly, with looking at 2,000 families, that doesn't bespeak, you know, well for all races.
JIM: And, you know, I think you're looking at a small minority as, you know, we'd probably need a long-term study.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Okay, Jim. Well thanks for the call.
JIM: Thank you.
BROOKS: I appreciate the call.
And let's go to Josh(ph) who's calling from St. Louis.
Josh, you're on the air.
JOSH (Caller): Hey, thank you for taking my call. I had a question about the study in regards to access to education, and in more particular higher education. I'm a college administrator at a highly recognized, well-reputed university here in the Midwest. And what I noticed is, you know, if you look at the numbers for women in higher education and, you know, every year, you're seeing that the percentage of women compared to men has, you know - they always seem to have a larger number. I'm curious, can you correlate, you know, access education correlating with increase and access to, you know, jobs that give you (unintelligible), and I think it's class or financial security. In that case, when we're talking about shortening the gap with the need to focus on K-12 education, specifically in some of these areas where people are lacking, because clearly, it's working for women specifically white women. So I want to hear about your thoughts on that.
BROOKS: Okay, let me put that question to Julia Isaacs. Julia Isaacs, any correlation between income and education in this study?
Ms. ISAACS: Well, certainly, people with a college education end up having higher incomes than those without. And also, you're right that women's growth in income is indeed correlated with women entering college in greater numbers. I should mention that it's a team of researchers here at the Brookings Institution that are doing these reports on mobility. And one of my colleagues is going to come out with a report specifically looking at differences in mobility of those with college educations and without, and that will be out in February.
BROOKS: Okay. Let's try again another caller into this segment. Let's go to Jimmy(ph), who's calling from Berkeley, California.
Hi, Jimmy, you're on the air.
JIMMY (Caller): Hello. How are you doing?
BROOKS: Very well, thanks.
JIMMY: Yes. I'm surprised nobody mentioned the decline of blue-collar jobs ever made your factor in the decline of black middle-class participation.
BROOKS: That's probably a good point. I'm not sure it was covered in the study that Julia did. But Julia, what do you say to Jimmy? The decline of blue-collar jobs is contributing to the decline of black income?
Ms. ISAACS: No. As you said, we were looking less at the underlying factors. This is a 15-page report and does not go into the many factors such as declines in jobs.
BROOKS: But Jimmy, thanks for that call. This is a subject we're going to be sort of considering in the rest of the hour, a little bit later. So Julia Isaacs, what's next in terms of sort of the next step in the kind of research that you're doing that's going to sort of flush out this story?
Ms. ISAACS: Well, what I'm working on right now is looking at cross-national comparisons. I think we tend - if mobility - we tend to think that we have more mobility in this country than in many European countries. In fact, the best available evidence suggests that's not the case. We actually have less mobility overall, and it's hard to compare across countries but did - evidence certainly suggests we have less mobility from the bottom than in some other countries.
BROOKS: Well, Julia, I want to thank you for joining us today. Appreciate it.
Ms. ISAACS: My pleasure.
BROOKS: That's Julia Isaacs. She's the child and family policy fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the economic mobility studies funded by the Pew Foundation. She joined us from the Brookings Institution here in Washington, D.C. We're talking about the income gap between black families and white families.
Up next, Clarence Page joins us. He has an op-ed on this issue in today's paper. You can join the conversation at 800-989-8255. Or send us e-mail, the address is email@example.com.
I'm Anthony Brooks. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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BROOKS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Anthony Brooks in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
We're talking about the growing income gap between black families and white families. The Pew Study released yesterday shows that in 2004, a typical black family had an income that was 58 percent of a typical white family's. Thirty years ago, the average black family's income was 63 percent of a white family's. You can learn more about the expanding income gap between blacks and whites and read an essay about being black in America at npr.org/talk.
We also want to hear from you on this subject - why the difference, and what can be done to change the numbers: 800-989-8255 is the number to call. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us now in Studio 3A is Clarence Page, nationally syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune. And thanks for coming in, Clarence. Good to have you.
Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Op-Ed Writer, Chicago Tribune): It's a pleasure. Good to be here.
BROOKS: Also joining us is Thomas Shapiro. He is director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy at Brandeis University. He joined us from our member station at WBUR in Boston. Thank you for coming in, Thomas Shapiro.
Professor THOMAS SHAPIRO (Author, "The Hidden Cost of Being African American"): It's a pleasure.
BROOKS: And let me start with you. What explains this persistent and widening income gap between whites and blacks? I mean, I'm sure there are lots of reasons - historic, social, economic - but what explanation is on the top of your list?
Prof. SHAPIRO: Well, at the top of my list is what the Pew report, really, its main finding is the inability of African-American families to pass along their income achievements to their children. And I'm pretty sure from a lot of work that I and others have done that one of the foundations of this is not only the 58-cents-on-a-dollar income gap, but what else I think really underlies that is a racial wealth gap, where the average African-American family has a dime for every dollar of financial assets that the average white family has…
BROOKS: Literally, 10 percent.
Prof. SHAPIRO: Literally 10 percent. And if we did the middle income control on it and just compared African-American middle income families or middle class families to white middle-class families, we, in fact, had a significant rise. It rises all the way from a dime on the dollar to about 25 cents on the dollar. So what we're seeing here is, again, the inability of - the relative inability of African-Americans to pass along hard-earned and merit-based achievements in schools, in the paychecks and on the jobs to their children.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Clarence Page, I want to bring you in this conversation. In your column today, you wrote that, quote, "Americans love to talk about race if it means they don't have to talk about class."
Mr. PAGE: That's right.
BROOKS: This seems sort of pertinent to what we're talking about right now.
Mr. PAGE: Oh, yeah. I'm the first person to make that observation, by the way. I think - I'm happy that more people are beginning to realize that our inequity problems today are much more class based than race based compared to 40 years ago, when your study begins. And this is very pertinent to me, because I did not only study this academically and journalistically, but I've lived it, Anthony.
I grew up in a steel town there in southern Ohio that - back 40 years ago, when I was just starting college. That turned out to be, little that I know, but the last great industrial years for America, for the steel mill where I was working, for a lot of other industries in Ohio, where it's just economically devastated: the Frigidaire, Huffy bicycle, National Cash Register - I could go on and on - the companies that were real muscle, big-muscled, moneymaking companies that - where a family from Alabama like mine could come up north and - without a high school degree or a diploma, you could make a comfortable middle-class income back then.
I noticed - Julia Isaacs mentioned that - (unintelligible) in adjusted dollars, she was talking about people with around $56,000 today. I don't know what that was exactly 40 years ago, but it was with a faction of - I would guess, maybe Tom Shapiro would know. I'm guessing somewhere around 20,000, maybe less. And yet, it wasn't hard for my parents - my father was a factory janitor - but it wasn't hard for them to pay my tuition at a state university for four years, and for me with summer jobs and part-time work, fill the - take care of the rest of the cost.
College affordability is much less these days. Tom Shapiro is right about family wealth. When my parents passed on, my dad had taken the time to buy the house we lived in plus two rental properties, all three of them put together in that devastated economy in my hometown, add it up until about $15,000 total. This is in the late 1980s, early '90s, you know? I mean, you know, and we were a more fortunate a black family in that regard for having those three properties. So you could go on and on in regard to how the economic shifts of the last 40 years have had a big impact on blue-collar families, especially black folks.
BROOKS: Yeah. It seems like, Thomas Shapiro, that Clarence Page is sort of getting back to this issue that you were talking about. This, I mean, you were talking about this accumulation of wealth and how it's difficult, more difficult for black families to accumulate wealth and pass it on. What are the obstacles there, in your view?
Prof. SHAPIRO: Well, the obstacles really come from three sources. Number one is - comes out of that income gap. Very simply, average African-American family has 58 cents on the dollar. These days, there is less discretionary money at the end of the month, less opportunities to save and invest and be thrifty about. Number two, and probably at least as important is the long history, the long legacy of race in the United States.
And I think in this instance, race is absolutely critical to an understanding that it really is only the present generation of African-American middle-class families that have had an opportunity to create any financial assets or wealth for themselves, that those opportunities were largely denied from them systematically in all previous generations. And then, third is the way in which wealth is created in American society. Most wealth is created in the form of home equity - the amount of value our homes appreciate overtime, not the money we put under the sofa or put into a bank account or make a shrewd stock market investment.
In fact, two-thirds of America's middle-class wealth is in the form of home equity. And we know that there is a segregation tax, figuratively, that operates that homes appreciate much more rapidly in value when they're in whiter communities. So if the same homes in an African-American versus a white community, that home in the African-American community likely is going to increase in value and create wealth, yes. But at the same time, it's going to create less wealth. So I think…
BROOKS: And what do we know about black homeownership in terms of percentages? I mean, do fewer blacks, in terms of percentages, own their own homes, and so that gets to what you're talking about, right?
Prof. SHAPIRO: Yes. The - that gap is about from the top of my head. It's - and I think I'm right - it's about 20 percent less. But it's even more stark than that because the homeownership gap, white and black, is at its widest at the younger age groups. African-Americans actually, as they go through the life course, starts to catch up a little bit more in terms of homeownership. But homes appreciate in value, they create wealth overtime. So the longer you've been a homeowner, the more likely it is that your wealth has grown much more greatly.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. We're talking about the income gap between black families and white families with Clarence Page and Thomas Shapiro. You can join the conversation by calling 800-989-8255.
Let's go to Jocelyn(ph), who's calling from St. Charles, Illinois.
JOCELYN (Caller): Hello. Are you there?
BROOKS: Yup. You're on the air.
JOCELYN: Well, you know, from my experience, a lot of what I've heard all of your expert talk about today is true for me. Our family, my - both my parents are the first of their generation to go college and both of them taught school, but none of them really amassed anything. And so when I suddenly lost my father at 17, there was nothing, and so my mom and I went forward and managed.
But again, there was never really that sense of passing on from one generation through the next and so I find myself now being much more aware of teaching my children, number one, all of those things that I wasn't taught. We didn't talk about money. We didn't talk about building assets. And I want to pass that onto my children, but I find myself being really concerned about how that hasn't happened before and what do I do personally to reverse that trend?
BROOKS: Interesting, Jocelyn. Thanks for the call. Clarence Page, what do you hear in Jocelyn's call there?
Mr. PAGE: Well, certainly a widely voiced concern. I will say, you know, back -at the beginning of the Bush administration, he put a big push on to encourage homeownership, and the housing and urban development made a big push to push more black and Hispanic homeownership. And the numbers were looking quite good because the - a good economy and low interest rates. In the last couple of years, as you'd know, the subprime mortgage crisis has been devastating for…
BROOKS: For a lot of people…
Prof. SHAPIRO: …for new homeowners of all races. And I'm waiting to see -everybody's waiting to see, as this shakes out, what the devastation is going to look like at the other end. But let me point out another thing we haven't said much about and that is the staggering rise in single parenting in the black community over that last 40 years. In 1965 when, you know, Patrick Moynihan report came out, he was shocked that a single black parenting was around 25 percent, and that was more than twice what the white-out-of-wedlock birth rate was. Today, it has soared up to around, well, the highest is 60s, around 67 percent back in the '90s, where it's been kind of flat. Meanwhile, the white-out-of-wedlock birth rate is climbing up to pass where it was when - that 25 percent that shocked Moynihan among blacks in the '60s.
Again, this study - this Pew study doesn't go into enough detail for us to really see what the impact of that is. But we do know from other studies, urban institute and others over the last few years, there's a lot of disenchantment, disengagement by young black males. Young black females are going to college on a much rate. So there's a lot of different factors that kind of account for the slippage.
BROOKS: Let me read an e-mail on this subject, Clarence. It comes from a listener named Haze(ph). Upward mobility is difficult even in this society, but for single-family homes not receiving child support, it's nearly impossible. You need a strong family that can save for child's education and own their own homes so they have an asset that can be borrowed against. This is the recipe for upward mobility.
And, Thomas Shapiro, I want to sort of come back to you. What policies can turn this around? I've heard you talk in the past about the idea of asset development. How do we do that?
Prof. SHAPIRO: Thank you. Let me just quickly turn to Haze's question.
Prof. SHAPIRO: I think it really starts to capture something that isn't very important in the Pew report that you have to really read to see it in there. In my reading of the Pew report, what they're saying is that a family's total income has, in fact, increased over the 40 years that they were looking at.
While having said that, more - they also tell us that families are sending more workers into the workforce. And we know from other data that individual workers are working about 100 hours more in 2004 than they did in 1973, so that the rise in family income comes at a cost, and it comes at a pretty high cost, I think, about the squeeze on middle class life that is sending more people into the workforce and having people work longer hours in that workforce.
Now, having said that, there are very clear implications when there is only one adult in the family, that is the opportunities to send more people on the workforce, and if there are children in the family, those opportunities are even less. So the squeeze of making it into the middle class and staying in the middle class is something that has really been pressing much harder over the last 40 years.
BROOKS: Mm-hmm. We're talking about the income gap between black families and white families. Joining us is Thomas Shapiro and Clarence Page. And we're taking your calls at 800-989-8255.
And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go to a caller. Let's go to Meredith(ph), who's calling from Lincolnton, North Carolina.
Hi, Meredith. You're on the air.
MEREDITH (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to share from personal experience that, you know, I come from a white family on the lower side of the middle-class income, on the very low side of middle class. And my parents raised three children, all three of us, you know, professionals. Two of us have master's degree.
And, you know, we took individual responsibility for our education, for - and by that, I mean, we took out student loans. We paid back our student loans. We didn't blame anybody. We didn't blame the wealthy, that we didn't have more money. We didn't blame our race that we didn't have any more money. You know, I feel like there's an inherent in this study that there's like a blame for someone that put on the white Americans that the black Americans are not making as much…
MEREDITH: …than white Americans. And I feel like it's more of an individual, you know, work ethics, value system. You know, my parents stuck it out together. I think the single parenting is very important to look at. There was a work ethic instilled in me by my father who never made anywhere near middle income. And I grew up with that and I took it with me to graduate school. I took it with me to this day, to where I am, you know, working hard and trying to make the best life I can for my children, saving for their education. But I'm not going to blame wealthy white America.
BROOKS: Okay, Meredith. I think we got your point. Clarence Page, what do you to Meredith? Is there a woman who…
Mr. PAGE: Well, the column I wrote that you quoted earlier…
Mr. PAGE: …I make that point that this study should begin discussion, not end it. These are studies that say something very vital about what's happening in America. And I think it's unfortunate that - Meredith, was that her name…
Mr. PAGE: …read into this blame. Nobody has mentioned the word blame. Nobody's talked about any particular people being responsible for this. That all is what needs to be talked about. There's a great debate going on in the country right now about the gap between blacks and whites and others. And whether it's a question of personal responsibility or whether the government ought to do something about it, whether or not we have a community responsibility, all I know is that with my family, the opportunities I have today weren't open to my dad and his generation.
Fortunately, the work ethic is very strong in my family despite a lot of battering that that work ethic took at a lot of other families that weren't as fortunate as mine. And the question is, what do we do now?
Mr. PAGE: I mean, many white Americans are defensive whenever you bring up race…
Mr. PAGE: …because they have been blamed for so much but…
BROOKS: But, Thomas…
Prof. SHAPIRO: Yeah. And…
BROOKS: Yeah. I just want to just sort of put Meredith's point to you, Thomas Shapiro. I mean, the idea that, I mean, we are talking about the effect of the past on the present. I mean, there were a lot of government policies along the way that for a long time did help largely white suburban Americans at the expense of urban black America, for example. I mean, is it - you know, can you respond to Meredith in some way in that context?
Prof. SHAPIRO: Sure. You know, I think what's really at stake here, along what Clarence Page was saying, is for us to figure out a way of putting - of starting a conversation and not framing or phrasing questions in a way that is really meant to end the conversation. And I think the Pew report is very useful in that regard. In a moment, if you'll give me the time, I do want to respond directly to the notion of pitting one group against another.
BROOKS: But, Thomas Shapiro, can you hold that thought because we're going to have…
Prof. SHAPIRO: Sure.
BROOKS: …to take a short break. And we're going to talk more about this when we come back.
We're talking about the income gap between black families and white families. With us is Thomas Shapiro, as well as op-ed writer Clarence Page. You can join the conversation by calling 800-989-8255. We'll talk more about the income gap in a moment.
Plus, pilots falling asleep in a cockpit. Are pilots too tired to fly? Stay with us.
I'm Anthony Brooks. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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BROOKS: Right now, we're talking about the growing income disparity between black families and white families. You can find more of the numbers that were released yesterday at our Web site. It's at npr.org/talk.
Our guests this hour are Clarence Page. His column in today's papers is entitled Dogged by an Obsession with Race in the Media. Also, Thomas Shapiro, author of the "Hidden Cost of Being African American." He studies income disparities in the United States' Brandeis University, outside of Boston.
And Thomas Shapiro, before the break, you were about to make a point about a response to a call from Meredith, about this report and blame.
Prof. SHAPIRO: Yes. Thank you. One central component about race and mobility that has been missing from a public or a private or any conversation about the middle class is exactly what it means to move into the middle class and what it takes to stay there; that is what is middle-class stability like? With Demos, a policy organization in New York, we've developed a comprehensive index that measures how secure or at risk middle-class families are. And we're going to release this report in the 28th of the month. It's called "By a Thread."
And among other things, it shows that about 31 percent that is just less than a third of all families that fall in the middle-class definition by income, only that number of families, 31 percent, are insecure - are secure, rather, along the economic dimensions that we looked at. So there's a squeeze in contemporary American middle-class life that affects whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos - all groups who are aspiring for that American dream in the middle class.
Now, having said that - and I want to respond very directly to Meredith's question - the report is not blaming whites for the plight of African-Americans. I've read the report very carefully. One kind of self reads that from conversations like this. It's nothing I don't think I have said nor is it anything that Clarence Page have said or anything that Julia Isaacs has said earlier.
Having said that, however, we also have to be very clear about the trajectory of American history and how that history has played itself out, so that, in fact, the largest wealth creation programs for the current middle class Americans had started after World War II - the Federal Housing Administration, the G.I. Bill of Rights, the Veterans administrations, the development of suburban America…
Prof. SHAPIRO: …by law and by custom, systematically excluded people of color. So the largest wealth creation opportunities of the generation that started work right after World War II was essentially denied to large percentages of the American population. Now, I think that's historically honest to talk about. I think we need to talk about that and we don't need to talk about it in a way that blames one group for the advantages of another. But we have to take it into consideration for the conversation especially if we keep wrestling with what are the policies that we want to try to address this with.
Mr. PAGE: If I may add something…
BROOKS: Yeah. Go ahead, Clarence Page, please.
Mr. PAGE: …real quick. You look over the last 40 years, the industrialization, the shifting, moving of jobs, and look at where the jobs have disappeared and look at where they've moved to or reappear. If they haven't left the country and moved to the South Asia or something, they've moved to the suburbs, away from the inner city. They've moved out the rural areas or areas of lower wage, lower benefits, lower health insurance costs, et cetera.
They have moved to places where black folks mostly like aren't when it comes to the black folks who were displaced for those jobs left behind. Look at what happened after Sears left the west side of Chicago, just for one example. So, again, not blaming anybody but this is - these are big structural changes in the economy through which black folks, among others came out in the short end.
BROOKS: Hmm. Well, let's try to get at least one more call into this conversation. Emeka(ph) is calling from Overland Park, Kansas. Are you there, Emeka?
EMEKA (Caller): Hello.
BROOKS: Hi, there. You're on the air.
EMEKA: Yeah. One of your callers has called about personal responsibility and people complain. My - in my case is the relationship with the financial institution that has not evolved and anywhere overtime, like, where you can easily get a loan to buy a car for 20,000 to 30,000, but then you cannot use the same credit score to buy a house. Where even within your income, say, you've been paying a rent for four or five years and you have a history to show for it.
In my case, who happened to acquire a foreclosure because probably the banks in there to give the responsibility to somebody else. And we actually have to leave the town to go get that where we're not trading the cost of driving back and forth into town for our conscious decision to pay mortgage as opposed to paying rent.
BROOKS: Right. Emeka, it's a great point. And Thomas Shapiro, I think Emeka is talking about this whole notion of asset development and sort of the challenge for him.
Mr. SHAPIRO: He certainly is. Probably more squarely, he's talking about a process of wealth de-accumulation by paying those usurious interest rates and having credit scores becoming very problematic.
I think part of what is at stake here and why it makes conversation like this even more difficult than it was during the civil rights era of the mid-to-late 1960s is that in that era, it was pretty easy to quote, identify who the perpetrator of racism was, who the perpetrators of discriminations was, who is intended to be individuals and intended to be images or icons that we could put up there and we could hear their voices, see their faces and respond.
Today, it is really not so much at the individual level as it is the discrimination continued to exist at non-personal, institutional level. And I think we see this very clearly, for example, in the subprime and foreclosure and default crisis in contemporary American society, where it is very difficult to put a finger on individuals who might be responsible for some very, very shoddy practices. But it is, in fact, the practice that's affecting a huge group of people, both black and white. In fact, one study tells us that about 2.2 million homes probably will be foreclosed over the next five years if present policy does not change.
BROOKS: Hmm. Clarence Page, we're just about out of time, literally, just a few seconds left. But important report - I want to a give sort of chance to you to make a final comment.
Mr. PAGE: Hope you'll invite me back.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PAGE: Well, let me just dovetail what Shapiro said. One of the ironies of recent years is that the big push to get more economical mortgages out to neighborhoods that have been denied by decades of redlining, financial segregation. Those are the places being hit hard by the subprime crisis now, because many of the people who were pushing loans to those underserved areas, many of those loans were the kind of usurious loans or balloon loans, et cetera, that we're seeing problem with now. So sometimes, something bad can start out as a good thing. To reduce segregation and help them prove black wealth can turn into a bad thing when it comes back to bite you. So these are complicated problems.
BROOKS: Clarence Page, thank you so much.
Mr. PAGE: Thank you.
BROOKS: I appreciate it. And Thomas Shapiro, thank you so much for joining us today.
Mr. SHAPIRO: It's my pleasure.
BROOKS: That's Clarence Page, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. And Thomas Shapiro, who's director of the Institute of Assets and Social Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy at Brandeis University. He joined us from member station WBUR in Boston.
Coming up, are pilots too tired to fly?
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