- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

More black Americans today are finishing high school, going to college, moving to the suburbs and earning higher salaries than in previous decades, while the trend of single-mother households is in historic decline, a new report shows.
According to a report released yesterday by the Census Bureau, the percentage of black families led by unmarried females is 43 percent, the lowest percentage since at least 1980, when 40 percent of black families were led by an unmarried woman.
The percentage of black single mothers hovered around 50 percent in the mid-1990s. The decline came, some social scientists say, because of the 1996 welfare reforms that required work and limited the time one could receive federal benefits.
"Didn't that decline start when welfare reform was enacted?" asked David Almasi, director of Project 21, a conservative black think tank. "We reformed the welfare system, which so many people blamed for causing the chronic social problems of the black community. [Welfare] rewarded the splitting up of families."
Dr. William Spriggs, executive director for the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality, said welfare reform had very little to do with the decline of single-mother black households. The vibrant economy of the latter half of the '90s raised all boats, he said, creating a stable environment in which two-parent families could prosper.
"It's not a surprise that when we had the lowest unemployment rate for black families, that family formation would go up," Mr. Spriggs said. "These figures reflect what the good economy was able to generate, and is finally giving us an honest reflection of the black family as it relates to the economy."
Mr. Spriggs, however, said he is "absolutely terrified" about the future of the economy and predicts a return to "double-digit unemployment" in the black community if President Bush's economic plan is enacted.
American blacks have also seen dramatic education gains in the past 20 years.
In 1980, according to census figures, 51 percent of blacks had earned their high school diploma. By 2002, 78.5 percent of blacks had finished high school.
Gains in higher education are even more dramatic. In 1980, only 8 percent of blacks earned a bachelor's degree, while today, 17.4 percent of blacks had finished at least four years of college.
The percentage of black Americans who have completed at least some college work or earned at least an associate degree is at a all-time high of 79 percent. This increase in the pursuit of higher education has correlated with the rising incomes of black families over the years, creating a swelling middle class.
Married couples making more than $50,000 a year constitute 52 percent of the black population, with slightly more than half of those families earning more than $75,000 in annual income. For white married couples, the figures are higher, 64 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
"The more people go to school, the more they get advanced degrees, the more money they get paid," Mr. Almasi said.
"The African-American community started looking more and more toward education as a way out of their situation, and that now seems to be paying off," he said. "There is not an invisible hand of racism holding people back when people are given those opportunities and they take advantage of them."
While the majority of blacks 52 percent live in urban areas, that's a decrease of four percentage points since 1992. Thirty-six percent of blacks live in the suburbs, up from 29 percent 10 years ago.

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