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.


10. Ohio
> Pct. residents black:
12.1% (17th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 35.3% (22nd lowest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,336 per 100,000 (23rd lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 11.6% (18th highest)

Ohio is one of the worst states for black Americans. Nearly 35% of African Americans in the state live in poverty, the third highest proportion of all states and well more than double the poverty rate of Ohio’s white residents of 12.2%. Financial constraints often contribute in poor health, education and other social outcomes. The poverty in Ohio’s black communities partially explains other poor social and health outcomes among black Ohioans. The infant mortality rate in Ohio, for example, while not especially low for residents of any race, is especially high for black women in Ohio. For every 1,000 live births among black mothers in Ohio, an estimated 14 infants die — the highest such rate nationwide. By contrast, the infant mortality rate among white women in Ohio is 6.4 per 1,000 live births.

9. Louisiana
> Pct. residents black:
32.1% (2nd highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 46.9% (7th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,749 per 100,000 (18th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 10.3% (22nd lowest)

Black Louisiana residents make up 32.1% of the state’s population, more than twice the national proportion and the second highest of all states after only Mississippi. Despite the relatively large black population, Louisiana is one of the worst states for African Americans.

As is the case nationwide, black Louisiana residents are far more likely to go to prison than their white peers. The incarceration rate among white state residents, at 675 per 100,000 white Louisianans, is the fourth highest among whites nationwide. It is still much lower than the incarceration rate among black residents of 2,749 per 100,000 African American residents, which is just the 18th highest compared to other states’ black populations. Black families in Louisiana are among the most likely to own their home, with 46.9% of homes with black heads of household owned by their occupants, the second highest such rate in the nation. However, the rate is still in stark contrast with the white homeownership rate of 74.4%. Similarly, a typical black household earns just over 50% of the white median household income of $52,940, itself not particularly high compared to white households nationwide.

8. Pennsylvania
> Pct. residents black:
10.6% (20th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 42.1% (16th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 3,269 per 100,000 (10th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 10.9% (22nd highest)

The poverty rate among whites in Pennsylvania is lower than the national white poverty rate, while the poverty rate among the black population is higher than the national black poverty rate. Only four other states in the country have such disproportionate poverty rates. The 29.5% poverty rate among blacks in the Keystone State is roughly three times the poverty rate among the state’s white population. In Pennsylvania, high poverty accompanies lower educational attainment. While 30.5% of white adults in Pennsylvania have a bachelor’s degree, only 16.4% of black adults have similar educational attainment.

High poverty and poor education in Pennsylvania’s black communities likely contributes to worst social outcomes. The incarceration rate among the state’s white population is 375 incarcerations for every 100,000 whites, below the national rate of 450 incarcerations per 100,000 white Americans. Meanwhile, the incarceration rate among the state’s black population of 3,269 for every 100,000 black residents is significantly higher than the national rate of about 2,306 incarcerations for every 100,000 black Americans.

7. New Jersey
> Pct. residents black:
12.8% (16th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 37.8% (22nd highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 1,992 per 100,000 (13th lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 11.5% (19th highest)

The poverty rate among white residents in New Jersey of 6.4% is well below the national poverty rate of 15.5%. Black residents, however, are more than three times as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts, with nearly 20% of New Jersey’s African American residents living in poverty. Homeownership rates are usually divided along racial lines, and New Jersey is no exception. Three out of every four homes with white heads of households are owned by their occupants, compared to a black homeownership rate of just 37.8%.

As is the case nationwide, incarceration rates in New Jersey are substantially higher for the African American population than for white residents. Out of every 100,000 black state residents, nearly 1,000 are incarcerated, roughly five times the incarceration rate among white New Jersey residents.

6. Michigan
> Pct. residents black:
13.8% (15th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 40.7% (18th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,169 per 100,000 (18th lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 15.9% (2nd highest)

Like the rest of the country, unemployment among black Michigan workers is much higher than among white workers and is but one piece of a much larger entrenched cycle of inequality. Michigan has the second highest black unemployment rate in the country after only Wisconsin. The unemployment rate among the black workforce of 15.9% is far higher than the rate among the state’s white workforce of 5.8%.

Relatively high unemployment rates are partially the result of lower educational attainment. While educational attainment levels are lower than average for both whites and blacks in Michigan, black residents are much less likely to complete high school or earn a bachelor’s degree than their white neighbors. About 92% of white adults in the state have completed at least high school, a significantly larger share than the black high school attainment rate of about 84%. Additionally, while 28.4% of white Michigan adults have a bachelor’s degree, only 16.9% of black residents have similar educational attainment.

5. Florida
> Pct. residents black:
15.5% (12th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 43.7% (14th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,555 per 100,000 (22nd highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 10.8% (23rd highest)

Driven in part by a relatively high incarceration rate, black Americans in Florida are the most likely to be disenfranchised. Nearly one in four black Florida residents have had their right to vote revoked in some way, the highest proportion in the country. In absolute terms, 520,521 black individuals living in Florida are disenfranchised, also the highest number in the nation.

The infant mortality rate within the black population in Florida, at 11.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is slightly higher than the nationwide rate of 11.0 deaths per 1,000 births among black American mothers. At the same time, however, the infant mortality rate among the white population in Florida, at 5.0 deaths per 1,000 live births, is lower than the comparable national figure.

4. Virginia
> Pct. residents black:
18.9% (9th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 46.2% (8th highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,418 per 100,000 (25th highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 8.2% (12th lowest)

Across the country, median annual income of black households is about $24,000 lower than the median income of white households. The income disparity in Virginian is even greater. Even though black households tend to earn more in Virginia than they do across the country, the typical black household in the state earns about $27,000 less than the typical white household.

Subject to some of the strictest disenfranchisement laws in the country, the black community in Virginia is among the most politically debilitated in the country. Nearly a quarter of a million blacks in the state — roughly a fifth of the black population — are ineligible to exercise their democratic right to vote. Only Florida and Kentucky have a higher share of disenfranchised black residents.

3. Illinois
> Pct. residents black:
14.1% (14th highest)
> Black homeownership rate: 38.5% (21st highest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,128 per 100,000 (17th lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 14.4% (5th highest)

By many measures, whites do better in Illinois than they do nationally, while the opposite is true for black state residents. The annual income of a typical white household in Illinois exceeds the corresponding national figure by about $5,000. Conversely, the typical black household in Illinois earns about $2,000 less than the typical American black household, and barely half of what the typical white household makes. Poverty rates along racial lines echo the income discrepancy in Illinois. While 10.8% of whites nationwide live in poverty, only 9.3% of whites in Illinois do. In contrast, the national black poverty rates of 27.0% is significantly lower than the corresponding state rate of 30.6%.

Lower incomes in the state accompany lower homeownership rates. While nearly three quarters of whites in Illinois own the home they live in, the homeownership rate among black residents is just under 39%. The black homeownership rate nationally is slightly higher, at 41.2%.

2. Minnesota
> Pct. residents black:
5.6% (22nd lowest)
> Black homeownership rate: 23.8% (8th lowest)
> Black incarceration rate: 2,321 per 100,000 (22nd lowest)
> Black unemployment rate: 11.4% (21st highest)

The disproportionate incarceration of black Americans has been well-documented — and Minnesota is one of the worst cases. Just 216 out of every 100,000 of the state’s caucasian population is in prison, the second lowest incarceration rate among whites in the country. Meanwhile, 2,321 of every 100,000 black Minnesota residents are imprisoned, which is the 22nd lowest rate among blacks. Black families tend to earn less money than white families, and that disparity is pronounced in Minnesota. A typical black household in Minnesota brings in just $27,026 a year, less than half of the typical white household’s income.

1. Wisconsin
> Pct. residents black:
6.2% (24th lowest)
> Black homeownership rate: 25.8% (10th lowest)
> Black incarceration rate: 4,042 per 100,000 (3rd highest)
> Black unemployment rate: 20.8% (the highest)

Wisconsin is the worst state in the country for black Americans. The median annual income of black households in the state is just $26,053, much lower than the median for black families nationwide and equal to just 46.5% the median income of white Wisconsin households of $56,083. Similarly, while 29.9% of white adults in Wisconsin have at least a bachelor’s degree, 12.8% of black adults in the state have completed college. This is also much lower than the bachelor degree attainment rate among black adults nationwide of 19.7%. Of all the racial disparities found in Wisconsin, the unemployment gap between black and white state residents is perhaps the most troubling. With a white jobless rate of 4.4%, the state’s job market is relatively strong for the white population. For black Wisconsin residents, however, the unemployment rate is more than five times higher times higher, at 20.8% — the highest among black populations in every other state.


To determine the 10 worst states for black Americans, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of 10 measures to assess racial gaps in access to resources and opportunities in each state. Creating the index in this way highlights disparities between racial groups, rather than what may be particularly poor socioeconomic climates for both whites and blacks. For each measure, we constructed an index from the gaps between black and white Americans. The index was standardized using min-max normalization. We excluded states where black residents comprise less than 5% of the population.

To construct the index, we used 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) on median household income, poverty, high school and bachelor’s educational attainment rates, and homeownership rates — each broken out by race. Unemployment rates for 2014 come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Incarceration rates came from the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank, and are as of 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. Also from 2010, the percentage of the population that is disenfranchised comes from the Sentencing Project. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we considered age-adjusted mortality rates and infant mortality rates.

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