Economic Progress

5 charts reveal key racial inequality gaps in the US

Protesters take a knee and observe minutes of silence at the State Capitol, amid nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Denver, Colorado, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Alyson McClaran - RC2S0H9YZN2Y

5 charts that tell the story of race inequality in the US. Image: REUTERS/Alyson McClaran

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Economic Progress?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Economic Progress is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Economic Progress

  • Unrest has broken out across America after the death of George Floyd in police custody.
  • Gaps in access to education, healthcare and more suppress everything from life expectancy to opportunity.
  • Black Americans make up a disproportionately large amount of the prison population and are victims to more fatal shootings.

America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.

Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May, and his death has underscored the many ways race and ethnic background drives unequal experiences among many Americans.

These charts help illustrate key gaps impacting everything from opportunity to health.

1. Wide educational gaps

In the 70 years since the US Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional, progress in improving racial educational divides has been slow and uneven. Gaps have narrowed by 30-40% when compared to the 1970s, but divides remain large.

Improvement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scores
Improvement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scores Image: Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis

2. Limited access to improved earnings, mobility

For people of colour in America, education does not provide the same economic return as it might for other groups. People of colour, particularly women of colour, typically have lower salaries than white and male workers with similar levels of education.

Hourly wages.
Even with similar educational levels, wen of colour are still earning less. Image: Equitable Growth

Income inequality is also stifling intergenerational mobility – the American Dream of children having a higher standard of living than their parents. Research from economist Raj Chetty in 2016 showed that at age 30 people born in 1940 had around a 90% chance of out-earning their parents. But for people born in 1980 this chance had fallen to half.

3. Outsized unemployment burdens
A lack of access to higher education or skilled work can make people of colour more vulnerable to unemployment during downturns and periods of economic growth. As researchers explained in one report from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: "An African American cannot count on education as providing the same relief against the risk of unemployment that it provides to other groups."

Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity, 1975–2011
Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity, 1975–2011 Image: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality

4. Health care insurance and life expectancy dynamics

Life expectancy gaps between white Americans and people of colour have begun to narrow, but inequities still exist thanks to a range of socio-economic factors such as income inequality, access to health insurance and adequate health care.

The disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black Americans demonstrates some of the vulnerabilities the population faces.

Life expectancy.
Life expectancy by race. Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

5. Black imprisonment in the US is falling but remains disproportionate

The imprisonment rate among black Americans has fallen by over a third since 2006, and stands at around 1,500 prisoners for every 100,000 adults. But black Americans remain far more likely to be in prison than Hispanic and white Americans. The figures are particularly stark among some age groups: in the 35-39 age bracket about 1 in 20 black men were in state or federal prison in 2018.

Imprisonment Rates
Imprisonment Rates Image: Pew Research

Black Americans made up a third of the sentenced prison population in 2018 – nearly triple their representation in the US adult population as a whole. They also make up a disproportionate number of fatal police shootings.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Economic ProgressCities and Urbanization
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

The latest from the IMF on the global economy, and other economics stories to read

Joe Myers

April 12, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum