April V. Taylor
The cornerstone of the American Dream is upward social and financial mobility; people are indoctrinated with the idea that as long as a person is willing to work hard enough, they can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to escape poverty and live a prosperous and happy life. However, the Atlanta BlackStar is reporting that a groundbreaking study conducted by Johns Hopkins University has concluded otherwise.
Over the course of thirty years, 800 children from Baltimore were followed until they reached the age of 28. The results of the study are compiled in the book The Long Shadow, which was released last month. Researcher Karl Alexander summed up the study’s findings in a statement to Al Jazeera America. He states, “Kids who grew up in low-income distressed neighborhoods on average had lower levels of completed schooling, lower-status jobs and lower earnings as young adults.
The statistics paint a bleak portrait of how poverty affects life outcomes. Only four percent of students who were considered disadvantaged managed to graduate from a four-year college and only 33 of the 800 children were able to move into a high income bracket after growing up poor. Children who grew up in the middle-class did fair somewhat better in terms of upward mobility than those who grew up poor.
The study also highlights the critical and detrimental role that race plays in upward mobility. While 45 percent of low-income white male children were able to end up working trade jobs such as plumbing and factory work, only 15 percent of black male children were able to wind up in these higher paying jobs. Regarding this finding, Alexander states, “We call it white privilege…it’s descriptive, it’s not an evaluative statement for us. It is what we see.”
On top of being able to land better paying jobs, white workers were also able to earn twice as much money. Alexander believes this can be attributed to white men having friends and family to help them network to find better jobs. Black women who grew up poor faced a dual economic disadvantage by not only earning less money than white women but also being more likely to remain single, which contributed to black women having significantly lower household incomes.
In regards to the study’s overall findings, Alexander summarily states, “It is frustrating…the bootstraps logic, you know, that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and the world is available for you. In some abstract sense, anything is possible, but on the ground in terms of the here and now, it doesn’t work that way.”
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) We know that in America, the odds are stacked against us. Racism is real, whites control most of the wealth and this power came from hundreds of years of stealing the wealth and labor of black people. We deserve reparations. The question at that point is “What do we do now?” While there are those on Capital Hill working diligently to pass laws to adjust America’s deformed socioeconomic landscape, there is almost no chance that they will be successful in a transformative way, at least before your children reach adulthood. The odds shrink even further when one considers that corporations are now running our governments.
2) Given that the landscape is what it is, there are things that you can do individually to avoid falling into this trap. First, don’t depend on the school system to educate your children. Public schools are horrible, and don’t do a good job of giving African Americans the tools they need to succeed. There is far more information available on the Internet than there is in your child’s school, so use it to your advantage. You’d be amazed at how much one can learn by watching youtube videos on science, math, law and any other topic under the sun.
3) Teach your children how to create their own jobs. White people aren’t hiring black people in droves, and that’s not going to change much either. We’ve even had a black president and it didn’t change very much. So, we’re going to have to be the ones to take control of our destiny. No one is going to save us. Those are the facts, now let’s deal with them. Never let anyone convince you that your child does not have a chance to be successful.