Black Income, White Income

| Wed Sep. 15, 2010 12:08 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias comments on a report that black income has gone from 41% lower than white income in 1975 to 35% lower than white income today:

As we know, however, a very large share of the income gains during this time period have accrued to a very small number of people. In particular, the top one percent of earners has gotten a ton and the bottom ninety percent have gotten basically nothing. Insofar as the super-elite is a disproportionately white group of people, this is going to drag the per capita white income upwards without doing much of anything for the typical white household. Consequently, you can easily imagine that there’s been a trend toward greater racial equality among the vast majority of the population even while a tiny group of white people has pulled away from the pack.

That got me curious, so I took a look a the Census Bureau's median data for black men, which would correct for the effect of a small number of super-rich people skewing the data. Sure enough, if you look at medians, then black income has gone from 40% lower than white income to 28% lower than white income. (The gap between black and white women has always been small, and remains so.)

This doesn't account for hours worked (the racial gap for full-time workers has moved only slightly) and it doesn't account for either non-wage benefits or for government transfers. And black unemployment remains astronomical, especially among the young. Still, it's true that a proper average does produce a slighly less bleak picture than per-capita figures suggest.