From Slave to Citizen: Overview of the Evolution of African American Economic Status

Gerald Jaynes

in The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195188059
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

From Slave to Citizen: Overview of the Evolution of African American Economic Status


This article gives an overview of the economic status of African Americans as it evolved from the slave era to the present day. Two conditions dominate discussions of African Americans' economic status. One is the recent emergence of a large black middle class; the other is the continuing national disgrace of black poverty. More than one in four African American households enjoy incomes greater than the average white household, stunning evidence a new more egalitarian era of race relations is ascendant in America. Yet the cold fact that one-in-four African Americans also live on incomes below the government's official poverty line severely tempers the good news suggesting all is not well with the racial landscape. Moreover, illustrating the tenuous well-being of many African Americans not officially in poverty, the government considers nearly one of three to be “near poor.” The coexistence of African American affluence and high poverty is both a visible reminder of America's racist past and its recent successes toward overcoming legacies of that past.

Keywords: African Americans; economic status; black poverty; middle class; race relations; average income

Article.  2542 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics

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