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Growing inequality in black wages in the 1980s and the emergence of an African-American middle class

Listed author(s):
  • Bennett Harrison
  • Lucy Gorham

Much recent scholarship and popular discussion posits a substantial movement of African-American households into the “middle class.” Yet over the course of the 1980s, the proportion of individual black wage-earners receiving “annualized” (work experience-adjusted) wages and salaries in excess of about $35,000-three times the poverty line-fell by 22 percent, even as the share of African-Americans earning below the poverty line increased by a fifth. This was true for all age groups, and even for persons within the black community who had completed four or more years of college. The growth of low wage employment was most pronounced for black men between the ages of 25 and 34, among whom the incidence of below-poverty-level employment doubled. Black women aged 35-54 experienced relatively greater progress than any other part of the African-American community, but their gains lagged far behind those of comparable white women. We speculate on possible explanations for these developments, on the basis of which a potential public policy agenda is examined.

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Article provided by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. in its journal Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Volume (Year): 11 (1992)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 235-253

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Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:11:y:1992:i:2:p:235-253
DOI: 10.2307/3325366
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  1. Vietorisz, Thomas & Harrison, Bennett, 1973. "Labor Market Segmentation: Positive Feedback and Divergent Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 366-376, May.
  2. Julianne Malveaux, 1985. "The economic interests of black and white women: Are they similar?," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 5-27, June.
  3. James J. Heckman, 1989. "The Impact of Government on the Economic Status of Black Americans," NBER Working Papers 2860, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis R, 1989. "Black Economic Progress after Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 519-564, June.
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