Wednesday, September 03, 2008

American Dream 2: The Black Working Class as the Crossroads

One implicit question in Jason DeParle’s American Dream is why the black welfare class was so large a proportion of all African Americans to begin with, and why it wasn’t shrinking faster.

Some of the single welfare mothers he studied had grown up in working class neighborhoods with two employed parents. Children of white working class neighborhoods are likely to move up in class, or reproduce their parents’ lives in new working class areas. Children of the black working class, by contrast, have been much less likely to reproduce their parents’ lives.

DeParle says that the main demographic difference between black working class neighborhoods and other working class neighborhoods is the high proportion of black single mothers. In the particular working class neighborhood that some of his subjects came from, about a third of the African American children grew up with single mothers. This is higher than the single-parent rate in non-black families (the national average is about a fifth), but much lower than the average for all black families, which runs to over half. Children in single-parent households are more vulnerable to the lure of the street.

DeParle also believes that there is another risk factor that black families have that is not so obvious. Almost all of the black working class families he studied had many connections, through family and friends, to the ghetto underclass. For the black working class, the “street” was never far away. This is much less true for the much larger white working class, and is still true when we consider the many different ethnic groups within the non-black majority. In Milwaukee in the ‘90s, the main area of DeParle’s book, half the black families in the city got some kind of welfare. The black working class is, of necessity, a minority among the minority. Moreover, black working class neighborhoods were typically right next to the slums, bringing the street literally to their door.

DeParle says the black working class is more precarious than other working classes because it is the “crossroads” between the middle class and the slums.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, this post isn't about the black working class. Although, after living in St. Louis for over a year, I think that I now have far more complex opinions on this subject. I'll have to flesh it out when I have more time...

I was really just checking to see if you had posted your family life professor/sociologist's take on Sarah Palin. Regardless of who I'm going to vote for in the election, I'm glued to all the back and forth rhetoric about whether it's appropriate for a busy mother of five to be a potential #2. Is it neglectful, bad judgment, heroic, the ultimate form of feminism? Or am I even posing the right questions?

Anonymous said...

Yeah Beau,
How about Barry, Michelle and their kids. Are we posing the right question?

Anonymous said...

No, we are not asking the right questions...what has been said about Palin is ridiculous. As an article in the NY Post said today..."holy hoop skirts: when did the clock turn back to 1958?"

Don't Barack and Michelle BOTH work with two young children? Why aren't they being asked who is taking care of their kids?

I'm not an Obama supporter, but I do give him high marks for saying that his own mother had him when she was only 18, and that Bristol Palin was off-limits. Classy.

Gruntled said...

I did post on Palin last Sunday, but I took it down after my comments got tangled in "babygate."

I think whether Palin should campaign, and then try to be Vice-President, with a special needs infant is her call. My wife and I have agreed that we would not, but then we haven't volunteered to be VP, either.

I think "The First Dude," as he is called in Alaska, has not made up his mind about whether infant-minding would be his job or not. When Gov. Palin was asked how she was going to handle and infant and being Governor, she indicated that her husband would step up. From the press reports I have seen, this was news to him, and he as not cut back his work, if the photographs are to be believed.

If she were elected VP, the Palins would have all kinds of additional support. Also, frankly, the job of Vice-President is easier than the job of Governor.

The gist of my comments last Sunday were that I don't think the Palins plan when it comes to family, they trust in the Lord to provide. I stand by that judgment.

Constructive Feedback said...

Excuse me people - How the HELL did we get from an above board discussion about BLACK ECONOMIC/SOCIOLOGICAL conditions over to Sara Palin?

(Can I ask you all a question? Since NONE OF YOU heard of Sara Palin 7 days ago.......what about her makes her SUPERIOR enough in your own mind to HIJACK a threat that was about BLACK FOLKS to talk about her and her family?

I have coined the term "Non-White White Supremacist" as a label for Black folks who share in the sentiments that Whites have about their own supremacy. I dare to say that some of you have such an infection.)

virginia said...

My personal frustration with Sarah Palin is that she has put her political ambitions before the well-being of her child - not her infant, but her daughter. Because Mrs. Palin wants to be Vice-President, Bristol Palin is now the most talked-about, scrutinized unwed teenage mother in the country. Because her life isn't difficult already...

Anonymous said...

Constructive Feedback,

I don't quite understand what is upsetting you so. Nobody had ever heard of Barack Obama a year ago and now we're on the verge of making him president. How does that one year of campaigning make him so superior, to use your words?

I did jump over and take a look at your blogs and they are very interesting...great writing. I plan to start reading them.

Anonymous said...


Looks like your topic has been hijacked by Palin talk. I will look forward to lesson 3 on the Crossroads

But more Palin.

I have been intrigued by the positive reception of Palin and family by conservative Christians this week.

It is very different from what she would have received from the sort of conservative Christianity (Southern style) that I grew in 40years ago. The Palin family would have been unwelcome at church. Not only that every one would understand that their trials were a punishment from God.

Presbyterian churches welcomed a lot of these sort of folks back in the 50's, 60's, and 70's after they had been rejected by other christians.

Question: are the Palins a special case or is the positive response they are getting from conservative Christians typical in this day? If it is typcal then there has been a mighty sea change in how conservative Christians respond to folks like the Palins since I left them 30+ years ago.

Anonymous said...

Thirty years is a long time but I am glad you are up to speed now. We don't handle snake much anymore now either. You "moderates" are very amusing.