Profile of African-Americans 1970-1995

By Mann, Taynia | Diversity Employers, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Profile of African-Americans 1970-1995

Mann, Taynia, Diversity Employers

African-Americans have been undergoing a remarkable transition over the last 25 years. Many Blacks have been able to take advantage of new opportunities that opened up since Civil Rights legislation and Great Society programs were first introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, but improvements in socio-economic status have not been uniformly distributed within the Black population. While the number of African-Americans who are affluent, college educated, business-owners, or elected officials grew formidably between 1970 and 1995, many other African-Americans are stuck in areas of concentrated poverty and joblessness, without the means to form and maintain stable families or lift their children out of poverty.

Indicators of educational attainment, life expectancy, business ownership, and political participation improved for African-Americans between 1970 and 1995. Neither Blacks nor Whites made significant progress in attaining higher incomes or lower poverty levels over the period. Correspondingly, the gaps between Blacks and Whites in income and poverty remained constant, or by some accounts widened. In some historically intractable areas, such as labor force participation and employment, the overall performance of Blacks deteriorated over the last 25 years, and the corresponding gaps between Whites and Blacks widened on these measures. Demographically speaking, higher immigration and fertility of Hispanics and Asians are increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population and changing the position of African-Americans as the country's majority minority population. Despite the many gains that have been achieved, African-Americans still lag behind Whites on almost every measure of socio-economic attainment.

The reasons for the poor socio-economic performance of Blacks on many indicators between 1970 and 1995 are complex and difficult to untangle. Large-scale, structural transformations in the U.S. economy and related transformations in the international economy are responsible for much of the widening income gap between rich and poor, and for the associated decline of the middle class in America. These changes affect all Americans, but they have a greater negative impact on Blacks, who are more vulnerable to economic shocks. Another reason cited for poor socio-economic performance in the period is that no measures have been able to fully address the problems of persistent, structural poverty, and unemployment which continue to plague the Black population.

The proportion of women who are divorced or never-married has increased, the proportion of married-couple households has declined, and the proportions of female-headed households has increased. Because married-couple households tend to have higher median incomes than other types of family households, the decline in the proportions of married-couple households among Blacks is associated with stagnating Black economic fortunes. Undoubtedly it is true both that lower incomes cause less family formation and higher family dissolution, and that greater family dissolution and less family formation cause lower incomes.

These structural changes in the economy, in demographics, and in family and household structure account for some of the continuing differential between Blacks and Whites, but they do not account for all of the differential. Several studies show that racial discrimination in employment, housing, and other areas continue to undermine the progress of African-Americans.


The African-American population grew from 23 million in 1970 to 33 million in 1994. Blacks accounted for about 11% of the total U.S. population in 1970 and for about 13% of the population in 1994. The rate of growth of the Black population is three times that experienced by Whites over the same period, but is less than a quarter of that experienced by either Hispanics or Asian Americans. The rapid growth of the Asian and Hispanic populations is largely accounted for by immigration and higher fertility of Asian and Hispanic women. …

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