This paper examines patterns and trends in racial inequality in poverty and affluence over the 1959–2015 period. Analyzing data from decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, I find that that disparities have generally narrowed over the period. Nevertheless, considerable disparities remain, with whites least likely to be poor and Asians most likely to be affluent on the one hand, and blacks and American Indians much more likely to be poor and less likely to be affluent on the other—and Hispanics somewhat in between. Sociodemographic characteristics, such as education, family structure, and nativity explain some of the disparities—and an increasing proportion over the 1959–2015 period, indicative of the growing importance of disparities in human capital, the immigrant incorporation process, and the interaction between economic conditions and cultural shifts in attitudes toward marriage in explaining racial inequality in poverty and affluence. There also are still significant portions of the gaps that remain unexplained, especially for blacks and American Indians. The presence of this unexplained gap indicates that other factors are still at work in producing these disparities, although their effects have declined over time.
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Poverty rates using data from the American Community Survey are slightly higher than when using data from the Current Population Survey due to better coverage of income in the latter. Using ACS data likely does not introduce bias into the analysis on disparities since poverty rates are higher among all groups using ACS data.
The strong negative association between family size and affluence can be explained in large part by the fact that the thresholds for affluence increase with family size. For example, the threshold for affluence for a family with two adults and two children in 2015 was $120,180, while the threshold for affluence for a family with two adults and four children was $158,350.
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This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Population Research Institute Center Grant, R24HD041025.
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Iceland, J. Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Poverty and Affluence, 1959–2015. Popul Res Policy Rev 38, 615–654 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-019-09512-7
- Race and ethnicity