Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Racial gaps make a difference

Racial gaps persist in region, U.S.

Bee Staff And News Services -

Sacramento may be one of the most racially integrated cities in America, but when it comes to many of the things that make life good -- income, homeownership, educational attainment -- its residents, like the rest of the country, live far apart.

Consider these numbers for the Sacramento metropolitan area released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau:

• The median income of white households -- the middle number in a ranked list of incomes -- was $58,248 in 2005, about 55 percent higher than the $37,594 median household income for blacks. White households earned about 30 percent more than Hispanics last year.

• Sacramento-area whites last year were almost twice as likely as blacks and Hispanics to have a bachelor's degree.

• About seven of every 10 local white households last year owned their home, compared to just four of every 10 black households and five of every 10 Hispanic households.

All of those gaps show up, to some extent, nationwide, the Census Bureau numbers show. Some of the gaps, like the divide between the incomes of white and Hispanic households, are a bit smaller in the Sacramento region -- Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties -- than across the country. Others, like the gap between homeownership among whites and blacks, are a bit larger.

But, locally and nationally, the divide is vast. And in some areas, like the gap between white and black household incomes, it has grown since 2000.

"Race is so associated with class in the United States that it may not be direct discrimination, but it still matters indirectly," said Dalton Conley, a sociology professor at New York University and the author of "Being Black, Living in the Red."

"It doesn't mean it's any less powerful just because it's indirect," he said.

Homeownership grew among white middle class families after World War II when access to credit and government programs made buying houses affordable. Black families were largely left out because of discrimination, and the effects are still being felt today, said Lance Freeman, assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University and author of "There Goes the 'Hood."

Homeownership creates wealth, which enables families to live in good neighborhoods with good schools. It also helps families finance college, which leads to better-paying jobs, perpetuating the cycle, Freeman said.

"If your parents own their own home, they can leave it to you when they pass on or they can use the equity to help you with a down payment on yours," he said.

Homeownership is near an all-time high in the United States, but racial gaps have increased in the past 25 years.

Black families also have been hurt by the decline of manufacturing jobs -- the same jobs that helped propel many white families into the middle class after World War II, said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office.

Among Hispanics, education, income and homeownership gaps are exacerbated by recent Latin American immigrants. Hispanic immigrants have, on average, lower incomes and education levels than people born in here. About 40 percent of U.S. Hispanics are immigrants.

Asian Americans, on average, have higher incomes and education levels than whites. However, they have higher poverty rates and lower homeownership rates.

The census data are from the American Community Survey, the bureau's new annual survey of 3 million households.

Thomas Shapiro, professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University, said the "easiest answer" to narrowing racial gaps is to promote homeownership, which would help minority families accumulate wealth.

Bee staff writer Phillip Reese and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

All data based upon the U.S. Census. a public document.

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