Special Report

Worst States for Black Americans

Racial tension in the United States is at a high point not seen in decades. Increased outrage at incidents of police violence against black Americans and other more structural inequities have led to civil unrest and calls for dramatic changes in the criminal justice system. At the same time, the conditions of racial inequality that have arguably contributed to these recent events remain widespread and are unlikely to change in the near future.

In many of the worst states for black Americans, there are opportunities to get a steady job, earn decent wages, and buy a home in a thriving community. However, these opportunities are not uniformly accessible across racial lines. Based on an examination of a number of socio-economic measures, 24/7 Wall St. identified the worst states for black Americans.

While looking at racial inequalities, it is far easier to find similarities between the states than it is to find differences — inequality is entrenched everywhere and only the degree differs somewhat between states. According to Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, “It is hard to find a state where outcomes for African Americans are very good.” In fact, no state reports better outcomes for black Americans than for white Americans.

Click here to see the worst states for black Americans. 

The Civil Rights Movement offered hope that racial inequality would soon end. The movement led to a series of reforms, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other legislation, known together as the Great Society. Over the following 50 years, however, further advances have been modest at best.

For example, over the 40 years through the end of last year, with the exception of only eight years, the black unemployment rate has remained more than double the jobless rate for white U.S. workers.

While some policies were designed to reduce racial inequalities, other policies over the years were designed specifically to exclude African Americans from opportunity. Most notorious perhaps is government sponsored segregation, such as redlining, which led to racially isolated neighborhoods. EPI research associate Richard Rothstein has argued that since the federal government is largely responsible for these divided neighborhoods — which are among the primary sources of economic and social inequality — federal policies are needed to integrate these areas.

Discriminatory housing policies contributed to the vast wealth gap between white and black families seen today. Wilson explained that wealth is accumulated over and between generations, but “for centuries, African Americans were prohibited from taking advantage of a lot of opportunities for building wealth, building income, even getting education.”

According to Washington D.C.-based think tank The Pew Research Center, the median net worth of white households was 13 times greater than the median worth of black households in 2013.

Today, 71% of homes with white heads of household are owned by their occupants, compared to the black homeownership rate of just 41.2%. Mississippi, the state where black residents are most likely to own their homes, has a black homeownership rate of 53.8%. This is roughly in line with the white homeownership rate of 53.1% in Hawaii, the state where white residents are least likely to own their homes. In the 10 worst states for black Americans, homeownership rates among black residents tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum compared to homeownership rates of black residents in other states. However, since this is also true for white residents in these states, the gaps between white and black homeownership rates are still especially large.

“Unless there is something done to affirmatively and directly address that disparity, it’s nearly impossible to close the gap,” Wilson said. However, she added, “it is wrong to assume that once the law changes all of those things sort of fall in place.”

Racism and the after effects of racial discrimination would likely remain for some time after any policy is implemented to address the inequality. For example, despite numerous efforts to ensure workplace equality, black workers still often receive markedly different treatment than white employees.

The states where disparities between racial groups are most pronounced are also the areas of the United States where addressing the issue will likely be most difficult. Nationwide, 10.8% of white Americans live in poverty, while the black poverty rate is 27.0%. In the majority of the 10 worst states for black Americans, the poverty rate among black residents exceeds the national black poverty rate. At the same time, in three of the 10 states, the poverty rate among white residents is actually lower than the corresponding national rate.

Blacks are also incarcerated at far higher rates than whites. Black men, in particular, disproportionately make up a large share of the U.S. prison population, which including people of any race totals an estimated 2.2 million people. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black Americans are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses than white Americans, despite the fact that both groups are equally likely to use drugs.

Incarceration makes it more difficult to get a job and often leads to a range of other negative outcomes. For example, it is one the leading drivers of disenfranchisement. The annual incarceration rate in all but one of the 10 worst states for black Americans exceeds 2,000 per 100,000 African American residents. In Wisconsin, the rate for black residents is nearly double this rate. For white residents of these states, the incarceration rates are all well below 1,000 per 100,000 people.

These are the 10 worst states for black Americans.


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