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Comparing White, Middle-Class Male With an African American Male Living in the City

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In recent years policy attention regarding the crisis of the African American male has focused on a variety of areas in which African American males have suffered disproportionately from social ills

These have included education, housing, employment, and health care, among others. Perhaps in no other area, though, have these problems been displayed as prominently as in the realm of crime and the criminal justice system.

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It is undeniable that the economic fortunes of African Americans changed dramatically during the twentieth century. African Americans moved from tremendous concentration in Southern agriculture to much greater diversity in residence and occupation. Over the period in which income can be measured, there are large increases in black incomes in both relative and absolute terms. Schooling differentials between blacks and whites fell sharply, as well. When one looks beyond the starting and ending points, though, more complex realities present themselves. The progress that we observe grew out of periods of tremendous social upheaval, particularly during the world wars. It was shaped in part by conflict between black workers and white workers, and it coincided with growing residential segregation. It was not continuous and gradual. Rather, it was punctuated by periods of rapid gain and periods of stagnation. The rapid gains are attributable to actions on the part of black workers (especially migration), broad economic forces (especially tight labor markets and narrowing of the general wage distribution), and specific antidiscrimination policy initiatives (such as the Fair Employment Practice Committee in the 1940s and Title VII and contract compliance policy in the 1960s). Finally, we should note that this century of progress ended with considerable gaps remaining between African Americans and white Americans in terms of income, unemployment, wealth, and life expectancy.

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African American women who experience higher levels of racial and gender discrimination report lower levels of existential well-being, on average, and are more likely to report severe anxiety and health concerns. In addition, employment and financial stressors are negatively related to well-being, and higher levels of social network loss and personal illness and injury are predictive of reporting health concerns, after controlling for all covariates. Finally, victimization as a child is significantly related to the likelihood of experiencing severe anxiety

The magnitudes of the effects of individual stressors do not differ significantly from the influence of discrimination, suggesting that social stressors merit greater representation in stress process theory and measurement. Also, mediation models indicate that individual stressors may mediate the effects of social stressors on health and well-being (Collins Patricia Hill, 1986). Specifically, we find that discrimination is positively associated with employment and financial stressors, which in turn influence well-being. In all, about a third of the effect of discrimination on well-being may work indirectly through persistent unemployment, being fired or laid off, and financial crisis. Also, stress related to personal illness and injury and social network loss may partially mediate the impact of racial and gender discrimination on the likelihood of worrying about health (Hull Gloria, 1982). Again, about a third of the influence of discrimination may operate indirectly through increased vulnerability to divorce and unstable relationships, as well as accidents and illness in the lives of women and their loved ones.

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In sum, some definitions require us to adjust income thresholds for inflation. We use the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) deflator, published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, to convert to 2016 dollars

In the interactive that accompanies this report, we use the PCE deflator to calculate growth in the middle class’s average income since 1980. It is worth noting that CPS income is self-reported, which makes it less accurate than administrative data files like tax reports. As Gary Burtless writes, publicly available microdata from household surveys are particularly useful because they allow us to investigate the distribution of income, but discrepancies between CPS and national accounts data are cause for concern.

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Clark Rodney, Anderson Norman B, Clark Vernessa R, Williams David R. Racism as a Stressor for African Americans: A Biopsychosocial Model. American Psychologist. 1999;54:805–16.

Collins Patricia Hill. Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems. 1986;33:14–32.

Hull Gloria, Scott Patricia Bell, Smith Barbara. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies. New York: Feminist Press; 1982.

Jang Yuri, Borenstein-Graves Amy, Haley William E, Small Brent J, Mortimer James A. Determinants of a Sense of Mastery in African American and White Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. 2003

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