01 Feb 2009 Inequality Within, by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.
by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. (bio)
An Obama presidency does not expunge the issue of inequality in America.
Whether one is concerned with issues such as income or wealth inequality, the differences between white and black Americans as groups remains stark.
For example, a November 2007 report by the Brookings Institution noted that, while incomes of both black and white families rose over the past few decades, the rise has been less for blacks. This continuing income disparity, it was charged, is made worse by the large number of black single-parent households and other factors that can create a cycle in which future generations perpetuate this disparity.
Clearly, it is incumbent upon black Americans to continue efforts to reduce income and wealth gaps that they confront with white Americans.
At the same time, however, black Americans should not overlook the fact that there are similar inequalities within black America. Given that we have financial, sports and entertainment superstars such as Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods and Bill Cosby – and knowing that approximately 25 percent of blacks are living in poverty – one should recognize that there is considerable income and wealth inequality within black America.
Standard measures of – and statistics on – wealth inequality are difficult to obtain, but a well-recognized measure of income inequality is the Gini ratio. The Gini ratio, created by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini, measures how evenly income is distributed. It takes on values between 0 and 1. A Gini ratio of 0 indicates perfect equality (i.e., every household has identical income), while a Gini ratio of 1 indicates perfect inequality (i.e., one household has all of the income).
The U.S. Census Bureau produces annual estimates of Gini ratios for American households as part of the “Annual Social and Economic Supplement” to the Current Population Survey.
Published Census Bureau data compiled for 2007 show that the Gini ratio for the nation overall was 0.443. Among white households, the Gini ratio was 0.433. For black households, the Gini ratio was 0.472.
Income inequality is greatest among black Americans – 0.039 Gini points higher than income inequality among whites and 0.029 Gini points higher than income inequality for the nation. The Gini ratio for Asians, by the way, is 0.414 and 0.432 for Hispanics.
The differences between the black, white, and the national Gini ratios are different in a statistically significant sense, meaning that the gaps conveyed by the Gini ratios are “real.”
While we are often critical of the inequality that exists between blacks and whites in America, we seldom raise concerns about the inequality within black America. That inequality is real and it is substantial.
Should there not be as much concern about inequality within black America as about inequality across America in general?
Theoretically, inequality between blacks and whites can be reduced by reducing inequality between blacks. Therefore, shouldn’t the black community be worried about and work toward extinguishing the problem of black inequality?
This problem can be addressed through efforts such as mentoring and opening new businesses in black communities. If one has been fortunate enough to rise, then one should consider giving others a hand.
Inequality within black America, such as with income as reported by the Gini ratio, bear monitoring. If it increases over time, it signals that wealthy blacks may be increasing their income at the expense of other blacks. Such an outcome is inconsistent with the principles of community, and it does not bode well for maintaining a unified black push for equality with the rest of America.
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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.