Politics & Policy

Race and Poverty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The August 31, 1992, issue of National Review, set out to set the record straight about the Reagan administration’s economic record. We reprint the content of the issue here.

Myth: Ronald Reagan’s policies were particularly hard on blacks.

“After eight years of what many see as the Reagan Administration’s benign neglect of the poor and studied indifference to civil rights, a lot of those who lived through this week in Overtown seemed to think the best thing about George Bush is that he is not Ronald Reagan.”

-ABC’s Richard Threlkeld,

reporting on how George Bush’s

inauguration was received in

Miami’s black section of Overtown.

“[The War on Poverty], along with a healthy economy, brought the poverty rate down from 19 per cent in 1964 to 11 per cent in 1973 . . . Compare that enviable record with the Reagan-Bush years. Even though the economy recovered for seven straight years, poor people did not. Poverty rates did not drop back to pre-recession levels.”

-New York Times editorial,

“War Against the Poor,”

May 6, 1992

In fact, the total poverty population shrank by 3.8 million between 1983 and 1989, and the poverty rate (the fraction of people living in poverty) fell from 15.2 per cent to 12.8 per cent. Poverty rates had risen throughout the Carter years and continued rising until Ronald Reagan’s economic policies took hold.

Between 1978 and 1982 the number of poor blacks rose by more than two million; between 1982 and 1989 the number of poor blacks fell by 400,000.

According to David Ridenour (Human Events, October 12, 1991), from the end of 1982 to 1989 black unemployment dropped 9 percentage points (from 20.4 per cent to 11.4 per cent), Hispanic unemployment dropped 7.3 percentage points (from 15.3 per cent to 8.0 per cent), while white unemployment dropped by only 4.0 percentage points.

A black entrepreneurial class flourished. According to the Census Bureau, the number of black-owned businesses increased from 308,000 in 1982 to 424,000 in 1987, a 38 per cent rise. At the same time, the total number of firms in the U.S. rose by only 14 per cent. Receipts by black owned firms more than doubled, from $9.6 billion to $19.8 billion.

In some areas of the country the black-white income gap has vanished entirely. Census Bureau figures show that black families in Queens, New York, had a median income of $34,500 in 1990, virtually identical to the $34,600 reported for the borough’s whites. The median income for all New York State families was $32,965 that year.

A recent New York Times article, “Blacks Reach a Milestone In Queens: Income Parity” (Sam Roberts, June 8, 1992), also reported that, from 1980 to 1990, the median income of black households grew 31 per cent above inflation, compared to 19 per cent growth for white households. The black-white income gap in Queens shrank from 9.5 per cent in 1980 to 0.2 per cent in 1990.

Unfortunately the very poorest of black–and whites too – missed out on the Eighties boom. Reaganomics is not the reason, however. Between 1980 and 1990 the number of black single-parent families grew by more than 650,000, while the number of intact black families fell.

By 1990 three out of every five black families were maintained by a single parent.

The poverty rate for black single-parent families was struck above 50 per cent throughout the Eighties. The poverty rate for married-couple black families with children was only one-fourth as high, and declined during the decade.#9;#9;

Mr. Rubenstein is NR’s economist analyst.


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