Kai Wright at Colorlines discusses an “arresting” graph demonstrating downward class mobility among black and whites.  The bars represent the proportion of parents’ children that end up in the bottom fifth of income earners by race and income of the parent.  On the far left, you see that 31% of whites and 54% of blacks born into the bottom fifth remain the bottom fifth.  Poor black children, then, are more likely than poor white children to stay poor.

The remainder of the bars represent downward mobility.  You can see that, in every case, black children are more likely to be poor as adults than white children, no matter what class they were born into.  Among those born into the middle fifth, the statistically middle class, 16% of whites and 45% of blacks end up in the bottom fifth of income earners.  For the richest white Americans, the chance of ending up poor is statistically zero; while nearly one in ten of black children born rich will end up poor.

Wright summarizes:

…economic mobility is not the same for everybody in America, and to the degree we can talk about a genuine black middle class, it’s not a terribly secure one.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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