AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN THE 1990s

Compared with the situation in 1900 or 1950, the most dramatic change in American life at the turn of the century was the absence of legal segregation and the presence of blacks in areas of American life from which they had once been almost entirely excluded. Thanks to the decline in overt discrimination and the effectiveness of many affirmative action programs, blacks now worked in unprecedented numbers alongside whites in corporate board rooms, offices, and factories. The number of black policemen, for example, rose from 24,000 to 65,000 between 1970 and 2000, and in the latter year, 37 percent of the black population reported having attended college. The economic boom of the late 1990s aided black Americans enormously; the average income of black families rose more rapidly than that of whites.

One major change in black life was the growing visibility of Africans among the nation’s immigrants. Between 1970 and 2000, twice as many Africans immigrated to the United States as had entered during the entire period of the Atlantic slave trade. For the first time, all the elements of the African diaspora—natives of Africa, Caribbeans, Central and South Americans of African descent, Europeans with African roots—could be found in the United States alongside the descendants of American slaves.

Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia provided the largest number of African immigrants, and they settled overwhelmingly in urban areas, primarily in New York, California, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Some were impoverished refugees fleeing civil wars in Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia, but many more were professionals—more than half the African newcomers had college educations, the highest percentage for any immigrant group. Indeed, some African countries complained of a “brain drain” as physicians, teachers, and other highly skilled persons sought opportunities in the United States that did not exist in then own underdeveloped countries. While some prospered, others found it difficult to transfer their credentials to the United States and found jobs driving taxis and selling African crafts at street fairs.

Most African-Americans, nonetheless, remained in a more precarious situation than whites or many recent immigrants. The black unemployment rate remained double that of whites, and in 2007 their median family income of $34,000 and poverty rate of 2 5 percent put them behind whites, Asians, and Latinos.

Figure 27.4 UNEMPLOYMENT RATE BY SEX AND RACE, 1954-2000

1970

1980

1990

2000

Whites

65.0%

67.8%

68.2%

73.8%

Blacks

41.6

44.4

43.4

47.2

Latinos

43.7

43.4

42.4

46.1

All families

62.9

64.4

64.2

67.4

Half of all black children lived in poverty, two-thirds were born out of wedlock, and in every index of social well-being from health to quality of housing, blacks continued to lag. Despite the continued expansion of the black middle class, a far lower percentage of blacks than whites owned their homes or held professional and managerial jobs. Housing segregation remained pervasive. In 2000, more than one-third of the black population lived in suburbs, but mostly in predominantly black communities. The gap in wealth between blacks and whites remained enormous. In 2007, the total assets of the median white family (bank accounts, stocks, the value of a home, etc.) stood at $87,000. For black families, the figure was $5,400.

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