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Understanding permanent black-white earnings inequality


  • Alejandro Badel


Average annual earnings of black US households have remained at around half the average earnings of white households for more than 30 years. Why are the earnings of black households so low compared to those of white households? Why can blackwhite earnings inequality of such magnitude be permanent? This paper provides a quantitative answer based on neighborhood effects. The economic and demographic characteristics of neighborhoods and the distribution of earnings are determined endogenously from the location and investment decisions of altruistic parents. Permanent racial inequality arises from residential segregation by race and earnings coupled with neighborhood effects that impact the productivity of parental investments. The model is calibrated by targeting observed segregation by race, segregation by earnings, housing price differences across neighborhoods, intergenerational earnings mobility, and the magnitude of parental investments in children. The benchmark steady state earnings distribution accounts for .72 of the observed black-white percent difference in household earnings. The paper argues that local housing markets, local human capital externalities and racial neighborhood preferences are necessary ingredients in explaining permanent black white inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Alejandro Badel, 2010. "Understanding permanent black-white earnings inequality," Working Papers 2010-047, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2010-047

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Card, David & Rothstein, Jesse, 2007. "Racial segregation and the black-white test score gap," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(11-12), pages 2158-2184, December.
    2. Cutler, David M. & Glaeser, Edward L. & Vigdor, Jacob L., 2008. "When are ghettos bad? Lessons from immigrant segregation in the United States," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 759-774, May.
    3. Tauchen, George, 1986. "Finite state markov-chain approximations to univariate and vector autoregressions," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 177-181.
    4. White, T. Kirk, 2007. "Initial conditions at Emancipation: The long-run effect on black-white wealth and earnings inequality," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 31(10), pages 3370-3395, October.
    5. Huggett, Mark, 1993. "The risk-free rate in heterogeneous-agent incomplete-insurance economies," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 17(5-6), pages 953-969.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dionissi Aliprantis, 2011. "Assessing the evidence on neighborhood effects from moving to opportunity," Working Paper 1101, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
    2. Dionissi Aliprantis & Daniel R. Carroll, 2012. "Neighborhood dynamics and the distribution of opportunity," Working Paper 1212, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, revised 01 Feb 2013.
    3. Nezih Guner & Christopher Rauh & Elizabeth Caucutt, 2017. "Is Marriage for White People? Incarceration and the Racial Marriage Divide," 2017 Meeting Papers 779, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    4. Daniel B. Jones & Werner Troesken & Randall Walsh, 2012. "A Poll Tax by any Other Name: The Political Economy of Disenfranchisement," NBER Working Papers 18612, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    Income distribution ; Wages -- Social aspects -- United States;

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