The significant research of John E. Stapleford provides content for a meaningful conversation about race in America. As in previous posts (April 15 and 18, 2008), what follows is taken from his important paper, “A Torturous Journey: The Condition of Black America,” (Christian Scholar’s Review, XXXVII, No. 2, Winter 2008, pages 240ff).
Stapleford argues that African Americans entered the 20th century with both human capital and wealth deficits created by their experience of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
Human capital is measured in part by educational benchmarks.
In 1910, 3% of white adults were illiterate, compared to 30% of black adults. By 1920, illiteracy rates had dropped to 2% and 23% respectively for the two groups. However, “black illiteracy was concentrated spatially, ranging in 1920 from 26% in the South to 7% in the Northeast and Midwest. By 1940, 63% of black adults had a sixth grade education or less, in contrast to 17% of white adults. Seven percent of black adults had a high school education or better in contrast to 29% of white adults” (240).
“Southern black children received. . .fewer days of schooling than southern white children. In Mississippi in 1940, for example, white children spent 136 days in school while black children, in inferior facilities, spent only 96 days in school. Per-pupil spending that year in Mississippi was $513 per white child and $89 per black child. This was the human capital that black migrants brought to the industrial Northeast and Midwest” (240).
“By the 1950s, in spite of these educational deficiencies, African Americans were finding manufacturing jobs in urban centers that allowed them to support their families. The black middle class grew as a result. Then came major shifts in the American economy producing market forces that 'whipsawed' black labor (See William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, Vintage Books 1997), including:
*The decline in manufacturing in the U. S. economy. Manufacturing dropped from 31% of non-farm labor in 1950 to 11% in 2005.
*The suburbanization of manufacturing and low skill service jobs. Between 1967 and 1987, Philadelphia lost 64% of its manufacturing jobs; Chicago lost 60%; New York City, 58%; and Detroit, 51%, a disappearance of over 1.1 million jobs, Similarly, between 1970 and 1985, the total jobs requiring less than a high school degree declined 33% in New York City and 44% in Philadelphia.
*The globalization of new manufacturing jobs.
*The structural shift of employment growth into services where education was the major determinant of the level of earnings.
*Changes in technology produced occupation bifurcation, separating service workers by education into the haves and have nots.
*The surge of married (and educated) females into the labor force. The labor force participation rate for married women jumped from 25% in 1950 to 61% today. . . .
*The decline of unions. In the 1950s, unions included 32% of all wage and salary workers and today include only 13%. Typically, unions raise the wages of less skilled workers.
*The second Great Wave of immigration. . . .
“The result of all this was a decline in the real wages of low-skill workers that began with the recession of 1973-75 and still exists today. . . .In today’s service economy, formal education is the path to an income that can support a family, to health care coverage (most particularly preventive care), and to the accumulation of retirement benefits. The working poor have none of these things, and a disproportionate share of American blacks is confined by a deficit in human capital to the ranks of the working poor” (241-42).
[Next: Race in America, Part 4—the way out, no way]