The black middle-class has benefitted from the opportunities created by the civil rights laws of the 1960s. Over the last generation, there have been significant advances in their educational attainment levels, occupational classifications and family incomes. The proportion of blacks who are middle-class has grown significantly. However, our analysis also shows that despite its remarkable advances, the black middle-class still lags behind its white counterpart. In 2009, the wealth ratios between blacks and whites were the largest since the government began publishing this data in the 1980s.

African Americans are segmenting along class lines. Middle-class blacks have moved to suburban communities in significant numbers. Educated, upper-middle-class African Americans residing in suburban communities have little in common with their impoverished, inner city counterparts. Some middle-class blacks reside in upscale, all black communities that are not adjacent to low-income neighborhoods. They live comfortably among people like them and do so as a matter of personal choice. However, black families with incomes under $100,000 tend to live in inner-ring suburbs that were formerly white neighborhoods. These are often contiguous to low-income communities. This proximity means that they are exposed to the deleterious conditions that plague inner city communities.

The most significant impediment to black progress is the high levels of discrimination and segregation that persist in the nation's housing markets. This impairs wealth building since a home is usually a family's most valuable asset. Segregation adversely affects living conditions. Educational opportunities are limited as public schools in segregated neighborhoods invariably lack the quality of schools in white suburban communities. This is also the case for upscale, all black enclaves, which tend to be located in school districts where student test scores are lower and higher end goods and services are scarce. The current trends indicate that the black middle-class will continue to grow. Some have achieved socioeconomic parity with their white counterparts, but most others will continue to lag behind.


. Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Professor of Law & Public Policy, University of Delaware

.Theodore J. Davis, Jr. Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware.