Special Report

The Worst States for Black Americans

10. Arkansas
> Pct. residents black: 15.7%
> Black homeownership rate: 42.8% (15th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,432 per 100,000 people (24th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 16.5% (tied-4th highest)
> Unemployment rate, all people: 7.8% (14th highest)

Arkansas is among the worst states for black Americans. Nearly 16% of Arkansas’ population identifies as black. Yet, the state does not have a single black representative in Congress. In addition to limited representation, black Arkansas residents are disproportionately likely to be unemployed. Last year, the state’s unemployment rate for black workers was 16.5%, versus a 7.8% unemployment rate of the state’s labor force. In general, upward income mobility is more limited for Americans living in the South, according to research from the Equality of Opportunity Project. In Arkansas’ largest urban area, Little Rock, the odds of reaching the top income quintile for a person born in the bottom quintile was just 5.4%, well-below the U.S. rate overall. Economic mobility may be even more difficult for black Americans, who, on average, earn less than 60% the median household income of white Americans.

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9. Kansas
> Pct. residents black: 5.8%
> Black homeownership rate: 36.1% (22nd lowest)
> Black incarceration rate: 3,306 per 100,000 people (9th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 11.8% (14th lowest)
> Unemployment rate, all people: 5.6% (12th lowest)

A typical black household in Kansas made 60.2% of the median white household income in 2013, slightly wider than the national income gap. Lower incomes among the state’s black population are due in part to the relatively large gaps in educational attainment and incarceration rates compared to white residents, among other measures. Nearly 32% of white state residents had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, while 18.3% of black residents had done so, a difference of nearly 14 percentage points, larger than the national gap of 11.6 percentage points. While black Americans were 5.12 times more likely to go to prison than their white peers across the U.S., in Kansas, black residents were nearly eight times more likely to go to prison, one of the higher disparities nationwide. As in several other states on this list, Kansas residents are also not represented at all by black congressmen in the U.S. Congress.

8.New Jersey
> Pct. residents black: 13.7%
> Black homeownership rate: 39.1% (23rd highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 1,992 per 100,000 people (13th lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 13.0% (21st lowest)
> Unemployment rate, all people: 8.2% (7th highest)

Nearly 16% of New Jersey’s black population lived in poverty in 2013. This figure is lower than the national poverty rate of 17.1% and partially reflects the fact that the state is among the wealthiest in the country. Yet, the typical black household made only 58% of the typical white household, a wider income gap than across the county. Only one in five black residents had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, much lower than the nearly 40% of white adults who had held at least such a degree. As Wilson explained, without economic opportunity people often turn to alternatives that may be illegal. Blacks were more than nine times as likely to be imprisoned in 2013, nearly twice the national ratio. Homeownership is another issue that many black Americans face. While more than 75% of white households owned their own home in 2013, fewer than 40% of black households did, a much larger disparity than across the U.S.

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