John Irons's Blog


Economic News, Data and Analysis

Perceptions of Race and Economics

The Survey

Recently, the Washington Post reported the results of a survey on racial attitudes. Part of the survey asked respondents how they saw the economic conditions of various groups. Specifically, two of the questions asked were:

Thinking specifically about African Americans, do you think the average African American is better off, worse off, or just about as well off as the average white person in terms of {income / types of jobs}?

The results showed a large gap between the perceptions of each group. While 38% of white respondents thought that African Americans were just about as well off as the average white person in terms of income, only 15% of African Americans thought this. There was a similar pattern for the other questions.

In light of this survey finding, I thought I would take a closer look at the economic situation of various racial groups in the U.S. over the past 35 years.

What the data show

The data on income, poverty levels, and the unemployment rate all show the reality of how well various racial groups are doing relative to whites in the U.S..

Each piece of data shows the same thing-there is still a large gap in the economic outcomes of groups. While there does seem to be a narrower gap than 30 years ago, the pace of the convergence is very slow.


Per-capita income for each group is graphed below. While there is an overall upward trend in the data, the gap between whites and the other groups has narrowed only slightly (in percentage terms).


Over the past 40 years there has been a drop in the poverty rate, (but note that over the past 30 years poverty rates have declined only for blacks). Again, the difference between whites and other groups still persists.


The unemployment rate has shown a dramatic improvement since the early 1980’s for all groups. Again, the gap has narrowed, but still persists.


In light of these differences, should policy actively work towards closing the race gap?

The survey also asked the following question:

Do you believe it is the responsibility or isn’t the responsibility of the federal government to make sure minorities have equality with whites in each of the following areas, even if it means you will have to pay more in taxes? Making sure minorities have jobs equal in quality to whites?

In answering this question, 57% whites thought it was not the responsibility of the federal government to pursue equality with respect to jobs. A majority in the other racial groups thought that is was the responsibility of the government.

This disparity raises an interesting question: If people were better informed, would they have a different attitude towards policy?



Income: Census Bureau : Income data

Poverty: Census Bureau : Poverty data

Unemployment: Bureau of Labor Statistics : Unemployment Data


Washington Post article

Poll results

Filed under: Economy



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