More Blacks Enter Middle Class, but Poverty Lingers, Study Says Even as One Study Shows More African Americans Rising out of Poverty, Another Finds the Gap Growing between the Pay of Young Black Men and White Counterparts. BLACKS IN AMERICA

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BLACK America, despite serious problems, has made dramatic strides during the past few decades in education, income, health, and politics.

These are some of the major conclusions from an extensive study, "African Americans in the 1990s," released Thursday by the Population Reference Bureau Inc.

A few quick facts:

* The black middle class is booming. The number of affluent African-American families with incomes over $50,000 rose from 266,000 in 1967 to over 1 million in 1989.

*-College-educated blacks have enjoyed rapidly rising incomes, with young, college-educated black families now earning, on average, 93 percent of the incomes of comparable whites.

*-The number of blacks holding elected office climbed 47 percent during the 1980s, from 4,900 to 7,200.

*-Infant mortality rates for black children have fallen to only one-fourth the level they were in 1940, though there is still substantial room for improvement.

William O'Hare, head of Population and Policy Research at the Urban Research Institute, University of Louisville, was one of the report's authors. He observes:

"It's a different ballgame than it was a generation ago. For example, in 1940, 95 percent of all blacks were below the poverty level. Even in 1950 or 1960, if blacks were not poor, they had been raised in a poor family."

Today, there is still a large population of blacks in poverty, but there is also "a large segment of blacks who are in the middle class or who are wealthy," Dr. O'Hare says. "From the beginning, these (middle class) people had good schools and other opportunities that were not available to their ancestors."

However, the rise of the black middle class has created an economic fault line, which separates the newly affluent from millions of their black brethren who are still living in poverty. This economic separation "could lead to fragmentation and divisiveness" among blacks, O'Hare says.

The professor says this already seems apparent in black attitudes toward Clarence Thomas, the black nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Younger, affluent blacks widely support the nomination, while older African Americans who grew up poor are suspicious of Judge Thomas's conservative views.

Meanwhile, other changes taking place seem less sanguine for blacks, according to this report, which was also written by Taynia Mann and Kelvin Pollard, research demographers at the Population Reference Bureau, and Mary Kent, editor of the bureau's quarterly journal, "Population Bulletin." The PRB is a nonprofit educational organization based in Washington, D. …