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Research Shows Black Boys Are Most Likely To Be Stuck In Cycle Of Poverty


A new analysis of census data on 20 million children and their parents offers this sobering fact - black boys are the least likely of any group to climb out of poverty and most likely to fall into it. That's true if they're born poor or wealthy. Leah Donnella from NPR's Code Switch team reports.

LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: Nathaniel Hendren has two big takeaways when it comes to the economic outcomes of black boys versus white boys.

NATHANIEL HENDREN: First, we see very sharp disparities in upward mobility. Then second, we see very big disparities also in downward mobility.

DONNELLA: Hendren is an economics professor at Harvard. He coauthored the race and economic opportunity study with Raj Chetty of the Equality of Opportunity Project. The study found that white kids who grew up wealthy are five times more likely to stay wealthy than to become poor, but black boys born in the top income bracket have a 50-50 chance of falling into the bottom fifth of income earners.

HENDREN: Even children whose parents make the same amount of money, who grow up on the same block, they grow up to have dramatically different incomes in nearly every single neighborhood in the U.S.

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DONNELLA: The same was not true for black girls. Hendren says the black-white mobility gap comes entirely down to differences in outcomes for men, not women. When you control for parental income, black women actually end up making more money than white women and attend college at higher rates than white men. And Hendren says part of that difference might have to do with incarceration rates, which are highest for black men.

HENDREN: Even for black sons whose families make roughly a million dollars a year, they are equally likely to be incarcerated as a - the white son of a family that makes $40,000 a year.

DONNELLA: The study also looked at economic outcomes for other groups in the U.S. From generation to generation, Latinos are getting closer to earning the same amount as white people. Asian-Americans have about the same mobility levels as whites. Native Americans have the second-lowest rates of upward mobility after African-Americans. And for black boys, there are two things that seem to make a big difference. One, it's better to grow up in neighborhoods where a lot of black men live, and two, outcomes are worse in neighborhoods with a lot of racial bias.

HENDREN: So in places where whites are more naturally associating white faces with, quote, unquote, "good outcomes" and black faces with, quote, unquote, "bad outcomes," you do see that the gaps between white and black children who grow up in those neighborhoods are larger.

DONNELLA: A few suggestions the study puts out - more mentoring programs for black boys, reducing discrimination in criminal justice, and trying to reduce racial bias in white people. Leah Donnella, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.