How Wide Is the Black-White Deprivation Gap?

by Jack Ludwig, Senior Staff Writer

According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, 12% of Americans live below the poverty line. One of the most striking features of Census poverty data is the large gap between the percentages of white Americans and black Americans living in poverty (23% of blacks compared with 10% of whites). Data from Gallup's latest social audit of race relations in the United States, conducted between Dec. 9, 2002, and Feb. 11, 2003*, shows a similar racial divide. According to the survey, 13% of the nation's adults overall report that they did not have enough money in the past year to buy the food their families needed. Among blacks, this percentage stands at 28%, a sharp contrast to the 11% found among whites.

Gallup asked similar questions about having enough money for clothing and healthcare in the last year, again finding large differences by race. Combining answers to the three questions, Gallup found that 27% of adults (47% of blacks and 23% of whites) did not have enough money to pay for at least one of these necessities (food, clothing, or healthcare) during the last year.

Gallup first asked questions about deprivation in 1976; there has been little change in the overall numbers since that time. The question about ability to pay for healthcare is an exception, however. Our current estimate of deprivation (21%) exceeds the 15% recorded in 1976, a reflection of the continuing upward spiral of healthcare costs. The year 1984 stands out as a difficult time, with 20% of the nation's adults reporting not having enough money for food. The racial gap in 1984 was also much wider than it is today -- 51% of blacks and 17% of whites reported not having enough money for food that year.

Census data on poverty show that children are particularly likely to live in poverty, and our deprivation results reflect this: households with children are considerably more likely to report some form of deprivation (32%) than those without children (22%).

Not surprisingly, there is a strong relationship between deprivation and socioeconomic indicators such as educational attainment and household income, and Gallup's data suggest that the impact of these variables is stronger among blacks than among whites. For example, blacks with no college education are more than three times as likely as those with a college education to report some form of deprivation in the past year (53% vs. 16%). Although this relationship exists among whites, it is noticeably weaker (28% vs. 11%). Black households with children are more likely than black households without children to have experienced one of these deprivations (53% vs. 40%).

When asked what shape their personal finances are in today, more than half of U.S. adults (55%) say either "excellent" or "good," but 44% characterize their finances as either "fair" (34%) or "poor" (10%). Large gaps also persist by race in response to this question. A majority of blacks characterize their personal finances as either fair or poor (64%), while a majority of whites characterize their finances as either excellent or good (57%).

*Gallup conducted 1,044 telephone interviews from Dec. 9, 2002, through Feb. 11, 2003, with a randomly selected sample of adults in the continental United States. We interviewed roughly equal numbers of black and white respondents, permitting more reliable estimates of black opinion than would be possible in a standard national sample of a similar size. For our total sample of 1,044, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for percentages is not greater than ±5%. The parallel margins of sampling error are ±6% for the sample of 505 white respondents, and ±6% for the sample of 501 black respondents.

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