The opportunities made available by civil rights legislation of the 1960s have not been evenly distributed. Some blacks financially are much better off than others. This has resulted in a population that is increasingly segmented by income. The blacks that prospered as a result of civil rights advances are in a much higher socioeconomic position than their forbears. The more prosperous blacks are often better educated, they have more occupational opportunities, and enjoy a higher standard of living in comparison to the less affluent blacks. Not surprisingly, affluent blacks receive a greater proportion of the income of blacks as a group.

As previously mentioned, the proportion of black families in the higher-income group (over $100,000 annual income) grew from 2.4% in 1970 to 12.1% in 2009. While a significant proportion of black families are financially prosperous, a larger proportion continues to struggle financially contributing to economic disparities among blacks.

One way of assessing the growing economic disparities is by examining the distribution of income within the black population. Populations are often divided into quintiles, and the aggregate income received by each group is then determined. Graph 5 shows changes in the uneven distribution of income among blacks over time. In 1970, the top 20% of black households accounted for only 43.1% of the all of the black household income during that year. By 2009, the top 20% of black households received half of the income received by black households that year. Among black households, the top 20% of black households was the only quintile that saw an increase in its share of income received over the past 40 years. In 1970, the top 5% of the black households received 15.2% of all the income received by black households that year. By 2009, the proportion of the income received by this group had increased to 21.3%. The bottom 20% of black households earned an average of $8,131, the second quintile earned an average of $23,128, and the top 5% earned an average of $225,392 in 2009.

Graph 5

Growing Economic Disparities Among Black Families Based on Shared Aggregate Income


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Mean Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5% of Black Families: 1966 to 2009, tbl. F-3 (2010). This information is derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements. For information on confidentiality protection, sampling error, nonsampling error, and definitions, see www.census.gov/apsd/techdoc/cps/cpsmar10.pdf[PDF].

While the proportion of the income received by the top 20% of black families has increased steadily since 1970, the proportion of income received by the middle 40% (third and fourth quintiles) and bottom 40% (or two lower quintiles) has declined. The proportion of the income received by the middle-income group declined from 41.7% in 1970 to 38.2% in 2009. In 1970, the bottom 40% received 15.2% of all of the income received by black families that year. By 2009, the average share of income of the bottom 40% declined by 3.4% to 11.8%. Researchers predict that 65% of blacks who start in the bottom half of the income distribution will not improve their economic status.