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Why Upward Mobility is Difficult for Black Americans

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Black Americans — middle-class Blacks included — are more likely than any other group to be surrounded by poverty. 

Among White children born through 1955 and 1970, just 4 percent live in high poverty neighborhoods. Or, put another way, Black Americans live with a level of poverty that is simply unknown to the vast majority of Whites. It’s tempting to attribute this to the income disparity between Blacks and Whites. Since Blacks are more likely to be poor, it stands to reason that they’re more likely to live in poor neighborhoods. But the fact of large-scale neighborhood poverty holds true for higher-income Black Americans as well.

Middle-class Blacks are far more likely than middle-class Whites to live in areas with significant amounts of poverty. Among today’s cohort of middle- and upper-class Blacks, about half were raised in neighborhoods of at least 20 percent poverty. Only 1 percent of today’s middle- and upper-class Whites can say the same. In short, if you took two children—one White, one Black—and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar educations, and similar values, the Black child would be much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more violence.

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