Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The causes of racial inequality in incomes

Mitch Pearlstein:

Imagine two groups. In the first, 78.6 percent of all babies come into this world outside of marriage. In the second group, "only" 15.9 percent of boys and girls do so. Now, based on these two simple but critical pieces of data, consider a basic question.

Given that homes in which children born out of wedlock generally contain fewer adults of working age than do homes in which both parents live, is it realistic to assume that "household" incomes in the former group, on average, could even begin to rival the household incomes of the latter group? Of course not, is the only answer, as two potential income earners, on average, will always make more money than only one person. This is true by definition. Nonetheless, there isn't a single acknowledgment of this statistical fact of life in the Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange package on income, racial and other sobering gaps in the Twin Cities (Dec. 18).

The first and much larger number above (78.6 percent) refers to the percentage of "live births to unmarried women" among African-Americans in Hennepin County in 2003. The second number (15.9 percent) refers to the percentage of such births to white residents the same year.

Hugely disparate data like these would seem to suggest that out-of-wedlock births and the evaporation of marriage are profound problems, and that if we have any hope of reducing income and other chasms between whites and communities of color in Minnesota, we must address all causes foursquare, including these. Yet how many times do you think the word "marriage" or anything akin to it appeared in the editorial and two columns? Not once.

The nonmarital birth rate for Hennepin County as a whole in 2003 was 29.9: 22.9 percent for Asians; 54.2 percent for Hispanics, and 83.4 percent for American Indians. These numbers are also informative in the matter of income and other differences between and among groups.

Now imagine just a single group, one in which an excruciating 44 percent of all young men between ages 18 and 30 were arrested in a recent year (1999). Given the often catastrophic effects of police records on future earnings, marital prospects and other facets of life, is it realistic to believe that members of such a group, on average, will wind up doing nearly as well as their statewide neighbors? Of course not, again, is only the answer.

But how many times do you think the word "crime," or any comment about the imperative need for criminal behavior to fall markedly, appeared in the three pieces? Zero. The demographic group in question here, once more and sadly, is African-Americans living in Hennepin County. The extraordinary figure of 44 percent is from the often remarkably candid 2002 report of the county's African-American Men Project.

The Star Tribune is right to cringe that the Twin Cities is the second-most segregated metropolitan area in the nation, as measured by income. But there is not a chance in the world such inequalities will be adequately reduced until we come to grips -- with no less courage than grace -- with all the reasons for our troubles and civic embarrassment, not just the ones that are comparatively easy and safe to talk about.

Police seek gunman in Christmas Day robbery

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