Category Archives: social class

White achievement gap by class exceeds black-white gap

White class gap in math test scores as great now as black-white gap in the racial backwater prior to Brown vs. Board of Ed.

The New York Times had a powerful and alarming story today “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Show“.

One thing that the story didn’t point out is that the class gaps even just within non-Hispanic whites are growing and this also exceeds the black-white test score gap.  I’ve appended a chart showing the within whites 90/10 math scores over time [comparing the math scores of a white child in a family earning $160,000 to the math scores over time of a white child in a family earning $17,500 in 2008].  [This is from an Appendix to Sean Reardon’s paper, Figure 5.A2.]


The first graph shows that by 2000, the within white class gap (90/10) ratio has now risen to almost 1.25. It started rising with the birth cohort born around 1972, or in other words high school seniors around 1990.  This white class gap has risen about 65% from 0.75 in the early 1970s to almost 1.25 by 2000.   Reardon notes that 1.0 on this scale is about the difference in math between a 5th grader and an 8th grader.  So the white class gap is probably nearing the difference between an average 5th grader and a 9th grader.  [Interestingly, the white class gaps for math are greater than the class gaps within Blacks or Hispanics, probably because the wealth gap between the 90th and 10th percentiles for whites are wider than the similar wealth gap among Hispanics or Blacks.]

The second graph solid line shows whites and non-whites together but the dotted line on the second chart (the black-white racial gap) has been almost halved over the last 60 years from about 1.2, dropping to around 0.65 by 2000 (about the difference between a 5th grader and a 7th grader).

So even if you take race completely out of the equation, the class gap in math (and reading scores) within whites is almost DOUBLE the racial gap along these same measures and upper class whites are about 2 grade levels ahead compared to the black-white gap.  And the within white class gap in math test scores is about as great as the black-white test score gap in math was in the racial backwater leading up to Brown vs. Board of Education when the Supreme Court recognized that racially separate schools were inherently unequal.

The conclusion is that our focus on racial inequality in education has been important in halving these differences, but in an era of deindustrialization of America and the decline of good-paying high-school education jobs, we need to be paying as great attention to class gaps in math and English achievement if we hope to have vibrant social mobility in the decades ahead for the white working and lower middle class.

See somewhat related strong Op-Ed by Nick Kristof “The White Underclass” (2/9/12) (acknowledging some of the social truth of the cultural and family collapse of the white working class as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart does, while also identifying the much larger structural changes taking place as well which Murray does not).

See earlier blog post on social mobility in America.

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We ‘want’ diversity, but live increasingly in segregated communities

The Pew Center has an interesting research report showing this contradiction both for political diversity and for socioeconomic and religious diversity.

Politics: Americans profess to want political diversity in their communities — true of all Americans, especially for Democrats, Liberals, Whites and Blacks and more wealthy Americans: Note: for conservative Republicans it is almost a tossup with 49% wanting to live in a diverse political environment and 43% wanting to live around others who share their views.  That said, more and more Americans are living in politically segregated communities.  Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, whose interesting book “The Big Sort” showed how Americans are self-segregating politically note that these trends continued apace in 2008.  Nearly half of all votes (48%) cast for President in 2008 were in counties that sided with Obama or McCain by a margin of at least 20 percentage points (i.e., at least 60-40).   Ironically, even a clear majority of Democrats living in these landslide counties want to live among a mix of political views (62%) and by a razor thin plurality Republicans in landslide counties prefer to live among political diversity (46% to 44%).  [Note: Bishop believes that people choose to live among people who share their backgrounds, tastes and lifestyles, and that these preferences are increasingly correlated with political views.]

thebigsortThe Pew authors note it is unclear what is causing what: people who have moved more recently into landslide counties do not have statistically significant different views about diversity.

Race, Religious and Socioeconomic Diversity:

Patterns here are similar as with regard to political diversity.  Most Americans want to be among a mix of races, religions, people of varied socioeconomic classes.

The big divergence comes with attitudes towards immigrants.  Most Americans (other than liberal Democrats and Hispanics) prefer to live in a community with few immigrants rather than many immigrants, despite the research of Rob Sampson that shows that immigrants are more law-abiding than Americans on average.  [The researchers note that the form of the question had to be different for immigrants since just one in eight Americans are immigrants, and thus they did not ask whether you want to live in a community with a mix of immigrants and non-immigrants or not.  It is possible that the wording form influenced the responses.

So what’s going on?  The researchers note that it could be a “talk-is-cheap” phenomenon with people giving answers that they think interviewers want to hear or “saying the right thing”.  Political correctness held that the increases in answers among Americans of their attitudes toward race were just cheap talk, and then we find with the election of Obama that a majority of Americans ARE willing to elect a president who is black, so we should be wary of asserting that people are always lying about their feelings.

With regard toward racial attitudes we find that comfort levels are very different with regard to diversity among blacks and whites.  Whites prefer to live in communities that are say 15-20% non-white whereas Hispanics or Blacks often have an ideal *diversity* rate of 50% white and 50% black.  Part of what is going on in white flight is non-whites moving into neighborhoods and the percentage of non-whites rising above most whites’ comfort levels.  As the whites leave, the percentage non-white rises higher and higher, causing more whites to move out, and the community winds up becoming predominantly non-white.

The report notes that black/white segregation has declined significantly since 1960 (when 70% of blacks lived in predominantly black neighborhoods), “but immigrant segregation as well as Hispanic and Asian segregation has increased in recent decades.  [Some of these measures are sensitive to what measures one uses to measure segregation — the so called dissimilarity index or the  isolation index: as the population of groups rises or falls in percentage terms, their isolation indices can change formulaicly without them actually moving across neighborhoods.]  “Even with this increasing spatial isolation of the well-to-do, however, blacks are still nearly three times as segregated from whites as are affluent Americans from those who are less well off.”

Read the Pew Report “Americans Claim to Like Diverse Communities but do They Really” here.

Is early or weekend voting desirable?

Is this how YOU get to the polls? (photo by glesgagirl59)

Is this how YOU get to the polls? (photo by glesgagirl59)

An Op-ed in the NYT “Everybody’s Voting for the Weekend” (Steve Israel/Norman Ornstein, 10/24/08) makes clear that the fact that we vote on Tuesdays is a historical anomaly, born of the days when we had to vote at the county seat and it took a day to travel in both directions.  As the title suggests, Israel/Ornstein favor weekend voting.

A thought piece in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher makes clear that there is more at stake than simply trying to increase voter turnout.  He deplores early voting laws that spread the vote out over weeks.  Citing my colleague Bob Putnam, Fisher notes that voting is a collective act, a chance to affirm one’s commitment in front of one’s neighbors:

Voting is a proud expression of who we are and of our belief in our system and our future. It is an individual act but a communal experience. It is a statement we make about ourselves, to ourselves, but also to each other. It is how we say, “I am part of something larger, and my voice matters, and so does yours.” When we chip away at that communal experience, we diminish democracy.”

Voting alone could be worse than bowling alone,” says Dennis Thompson, a political philosopher at Harvard University, referring to Robert Putnam’s book arguing that as Americans have withdrawn from community and civic activities, our sense of trust and political engagement has declined. Early voting, Thompson says, “divides people, and in elections, we’re all supposed to be equal. The meaning of an election is that all of us come together to make decisions based on our common experience.” Take away the chance to vote together and you take away some of that meaning.

And while in Obama’s case, it looks like early voting favors disaffected African-American voters drawn to the polls for the first time in decades, who might otherwise not vote amidst the long lines and delays on Election Day or have their right to vote questioned, history shows otherwise.

“Early voting is a strongly biased opportunity,” Thompson argues. “Some people have more information than others.” In local and state races, voters might not hear much about candidates until the final week. That’s when less well-funded candidates might make their big push, and it’s when newspapers and other media produce voter guides.

More disturbing, early voters tend to be “older, better educated and more cognitively engaged in the campaign and in politics,” Gronke says.

“Early voting encourages a campaign strategy that divides the electorate and conceives of early voters as a different group,” Thompson says. Last week, Obama spent a big chunk of time in Florida just as early voting began there….

Either way, early voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The real debate should be about whether convenience is more important than the unique power of Election Day to pull us out of our atomized lives and put us in one room with our neighbors so that we see, if only briefly, just what we are voting about.

It may be that weekend voting is the best compromise: enabling more people to vote, easing the hunt for poll workers (whose average age is now usually in their 70s or 80s), delaying early voting until more of the electorate is well informed, and increasing the communal aspect of voting, even if spread out over two days.

See Marc Fisher’s “In Early Voting Trend, Democracy is the Biggest Loser” (Washington Post, 10/24/08).