Not a Single Place of True Equality for Blacks in America

A study found substantial differences in overall outcomes for Black residents across the various types of communities analyzed. Rural counties, and particularly economically distressed "trailing rural counties," ranked near the bottom on most measures of Black resident well-being.

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Not a Single Place of True Equality for Blacks in America

A report from the McKinsey Institute has revealed a sobering reality – there is virtually nowhere in the United States where Black residents experience the same quality of life as their white neighbors. The study looked at a wide range of metrics across different types of communities, from large cities to rural areas. 

The results show large gaps between Black and white residents in almost every county, whether looking at incomes, health, home ownership, education levels, or other measures of well-being. The suburbs seem to offer the best overall outcomes for Black residents compared to other community types. However, even in the suburbs, Black households earn only about 60% of what white households make on average.

In cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta that have large Black populations, the differences are especially stark. Black residents in these major metropolitan areas face higher poverty rates, more difficulty accessing affordable housing, longer commute times, and lower life expectancy than their white counterparts.

Outside of the urban core, conditions for Black residents remain challenging as well, particularly in economically distressed rural counties. Here, issues like limited access to healthcare, low educational attainment, scarce job opportunities, and food insecurity are widespread across all races but disproportionately impact Black communities.

While the study found that outcomes for Black Americans have improved over the past decade, the pace of progress has been glacially slow. At the current rate, it could take over three centuries to fully close the racial gaps that exist today. Generational change is not enough – bold, accelerated efforts are needed across all levels of society. Cities must rezone for denser development and streamline construction approval processes.

On the housing front, estimates show a nationwide shortage of over 7 million affordable homes, with a potential price tag of $2.4 trillion to build enough units and revitalize communities without displacement. 

The cities with the highest concentration of Black residents in the United States, including Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, Provo, Utah, and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., also boast higher median incomes, lower unemployment, and better homeownership rates for Black residents compared to other cities. Despite these positive indicators, there are disparities in economic outcomes for Black residents across different cities. For example, Black immigrants in New York City, Boston, and Atlanta tend to have better outcomes than their native-born Black neighbors, while Black immigrants in the Washington, D.C. area have a slightly higher poverty rate than native-born Black residents.

However, the legacy of residential segregation and poverty persists in the Black community, with nearly 21 percent of Black residents living in high-poverty neighborhoods in 2019, compared to just 4 percent of White residents. Discrimination in real estate, including lending and appraising, has led to homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods being undervalued by $156 billion nationwide.

Philanthropists, companies, and government also have a major role to play in expanding access to quality, affordable childcare and preschool education for Black families. Research shows quality early childhood programs can provide a massive return on investment by putting disadvantaged children on a path toward better lifelong outcomes.

The findings lay bare an unacceptable truth – that equal opportunity remains an unfulfilled promise across America for millions of Black citizens. Overcoming centuries of marginalization will require an urgent, sustained, multipronged effort from every sector of society. The factors preventing true equity are multifaceted, but so too must be the solutions deployed to finally make progress real. 

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