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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #69, September 1995. It was written by Doug Henwood, editor and publisher. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.


Race & money

Several issues ago, LBO reported that women's incomes are gaining on men's, though we're still a long way from equality. We promised a similar look at race and material welfare. Here the news isn't so good.

Average incomes of all families of all colors have stayed remarkably flat over the last 20 years. (Family, rather than household which includes individuals living alone or in arrangements not recognized as familial by the authorities is used because it goes back to 1947, while household coverage begins 20 years later. Non-family households have lower incomes than family ones.) White incomes have risen a bit, on average, while incomes for black and Hispanic families have declined (see chart). Asian-Americans have the highest incomes of any ethnic group, but the Census Bureau has only reported their incomes since 1987.

A note on coverage and nomenclature. This piece will focus mainly on African-Americans, despite the fact that race in America is no longer a matter of black and white. There are several reasons for this. First, figures on African-Americans go back much further than any other group; coverage of Asian-Americans and Native Americans is spotty. Second, despite all the changes of recent decades, blackwhite relations remain one of the central melodramas of American life.

And third, it's risky to generalize about the Hispanic population. Even the name itself is controversial; LBO uses it because the Census Bureau does. But many people so labelled don't like it, and the population it's applied to is diverse in origin, residence, and status. "Hispanic," as statisticians always point out, is unrelated to race. In the Census Bureau's yearly income reports, the source of most of the data in this article, about 90% of Hispanics call themselves white. Since Hispanics have lower incomes on average than non-Hispanic whites, including them under "white" category de