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Obama, Katrina, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality

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  • Robert A. Margo

Abstract

This paper is my presidential address to the Economic History Association. In it, I review and extend the economic history of racial differences in per capita income from 1870 to the present. Specifically, I revise pre-World War Two benchmark estimates of Black/White income ratios originally prepared by Robert Higgs. The Higgs benchmarks suggest that the Black/White income ratio increased from 1870 to 1900, but the trend was flat from 1900 to 1940. Compared with the Higgs benchmarks, mine show less convergence before 1900 but more between 1900 and 1940. When my new benchmarks are combined with standard post-World War Two census data they suggest that the underlying pace of Black/White income convergence has been absolutely slow, with the notable exceptions of the 1940s and the period of the modern Civil Rights Movement. I explore the interpretation of these long-run features with a model of intergenerational transmission of racial inequality in which racial differences in causal factors that determine income are initially enormous after the Civil War and which erode slowly across generations.

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  • Robert A. Margo, 2016. "Obama, Katrina, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality," NBER Working Papers 21933, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21933
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    7. Celeste K. Carruthers & Marianne H. Wanamaker, 2017. "Separate and Unequal in the Labor Market: Human Capital and the Jim Crow Wage Gap," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(3), pages 655-696.
    8. Saavedra, Martin & Twinam, Tate, 2020. "A machine learning approach to improving occupational income scores," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 75(C).
    9. Patrick Bayer & Kerwin Kofi Charles, 2016. "Divergent Paths: Structural Change, Economic Rank, and the Evolution of Black-White Earnings Differences, 1940-2014," NBER Working Papers 22797, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Jung, Yeonha, 2018. "The Legacy of King Cotton: Agricultural Patterns and the Quality of Structural Change," SocArXiv trjfz, Center for Open Science.
    11. Jung, Yeonha, 2023. "Formation of the legacy of slavery: Evidence from the US South," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 154(C).
    12. Jeremiah Richey & Nikolas Tromp, 2021. "The Black–White wage gap among young men in 1990 versus 2011: With sample selection adjustments," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 73(4), pages 780-805, October.
    13. Shariq Mohammed, A.R., 2019. "Does a good father now have to be rich? Intergenerational income mobility in rural India," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 99-114.
    14. Johannes C. Buggle & Steven Nafziger, 2021. "The Slow Road from Serfdom: Labor Coercion and Long-Run Development in the Former Russian Empire," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 103(1), pages 1-17, March.
    15. Marianne H Wanamaker, 2017. "150 Years of Economic Progress for African American Men: Measuring Outcomes and Sizing Up Roadblocks," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 32(3), pages 211-220, September.

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    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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