Where is the American Dream Now? (And are White Families in Crisis?)

Dedrick Muhammad has an interesting publication, 40 Years Later: The Unfinished American Dream, out of the Institute for Policy Studies (April 2008) that provides strong challenges to the end-of-racism nonsense that we hear much about these days. In his summary he accents these points:

Since Dr. King’s death, the African American high school graduation rate has increased by over 214%. At this rate, African Americans will reach equality with white Americans by 2018.

It will take more than 537 more years for Blacks to reach income equality with whites if the income gap continues to close at the same rate it has since Dr. King was assassinated.

If the racial wealth divide continues to close as slowly as it has since 1983, it will take 634 years for Blacks to reach wealth equality with whites.

Forty years since Dr. King called for the abolition of poverty, the annual decline of poverty for Black children is about a quarter of a percentage point per year. At this rate it will take over a century to end poverty for Black children. Today a third of Black children live in poverty.

These facts about racial inequality are well-known to researchers and activists in this area.
martin luther king
Creative Commons License photo credit: caboindex
Since not long after Dr. King spoke often about them, since the late 1960s, they just have not had much impact on public policy action, especially in recent years. We certainly are a country where such catastrophic racial inequalities, which reflect basically the past effects of hundreds of years of past and present systemic racism, somehow stay on the policy backburner while white-collar, almost all white male, criminals on Wall Street get their companies bailed out with a trillion or more–and usually get golden parachutes of millions personally—even as they have raped and destroyed our economy.

Muhammad also makes two points that you probably have never heard in the mainstream media or among social science researchers:

While the incarceration rate of African Americans is extraordinarily high, the probability of incarceration for white men has been increasing at a faster rate (268%) than for Black men (240%) since 1974.

The increase in the share of white children living in a single parent home has been much higher (229%) than for Black children (155%) since 1960.

So, there is, in terms of acceleration in recent decades, a very serious problem of increase in white crime and incarceration and in terms of white children living without two parents. Of course, the baselines for whites are relevant here to the percentage increases, but these percentages are in any event very sharp increases, to say the least.

I certainly have not heard ANY politician or media commentator (or other scholar for that matter) make a point out of either one of these white problems. Why isn’t the “problem of white families” and their “lack of family values” being discussed? Or the problem of “increasing white incarceration” being discussed? Maybe if they were we could start getting into deeper issues of why these might be seen as “problems,” and what “family” really means in this society. Or is that wishful thinking?


  1. M.

    Notice that if you took the difference (subtraction) in the percentage in1974 or 1960 and the percentage now, rather than the percentage of change off of the base (division), I believe you would come to the opposite answer about the black/white contrast in these statistics over the time indicated.
    On the white family, I think you do sometimes hear concern about disintegration of the white family, etc., especially in discussions focused on divorce. Remember when Dan Quayle denounced the TV character Murphy Brown for having a child on her own? More recently, do you remember the stories about the “sex challenge” at the Grapevine Church in Texas, where the pastor encouraged married couples to have sex every day of the week as a way to strengthen their marriages? My impression is the Grapevine Church has a mostly (but not entirely) white congregation. Many mostly white evangelical congregations seem pretty concerned about preventing divorce among their members. I think concern about white families is less often raised in the context of poverty than for black families, although sometimes that issue is raised as a concern there as well.

  2. Chelsea L.

    It’s great to see that since Martin Luther King made his well known speech things have progressed for African Americans along with others. With an increase of over 214% of African American graduates it just shows how far our country has come. As the article continues it begins to talk about the incarceration of white being higher than that of African Americans leading into the statistic that the increase in the share of white children living in a single parent home has been much higher (229%) than for Black children (155%) since 1960. A topic that is constantly being brought up is whether or not a child can grow up in a single parent household. If a child grows up with a mother and no father but is a young boy, will that boy learn the masculinity traits that most boys learn from their fathers. Will that boy grow up with stereotyoes that he is a sissy or a momma’s boy? Or vice versa a girl growing up with a father without a mother’s influence, would she get forced into more masculine activities and experiences. The society is so based of what is masculine and feminine that there could be many problems that all these children are growing up in single family households. I myself know of a couple people who grew up in single parent households and have the stereotypes that they would normally have from someone in a family with both parents. Lately, the controversy has led into homosexual people who want to adopt and whether it should be allowed because the children wouldn’t necessarily see the difference between the way a woman and man act. I think that if I child is taught growing up right from wrong they will learn what is best for them and realize that everyone is different and that is okay. Just because a child doesn’t grow up with a mother and father doesn’t guarantee that they are going to become a homosexual or misguided in the right direction. I think that people focus too much on whether someone fulfills their goal of being masculine or feminine enough.

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