Why aren’t African-Americans achieving all that they could? American blacks are twice as likely to be in poverty as non-blacks, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and they make nearly $5,000 a year less, on average. What exactly is standing in their way? That’s not an easy question, but some compelling and controversial answers are coming from an unexpected source: economics.
Economists who studied racial inequality were once viewed with skepticism, even by other economists. In the 1970s, Glenn Loury’s Ph.D. classmates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology joked that his economics thesis began: “This dissertation is concerned with the economics of racism. I define racism as a single-valued, continuous mapping….”
The joke is now on them, as economists have dug up insight after insight in the field. Now Loury’s young co-author, Harvard’s Roland Fryer, is attracting attention for his study of “acting white,” where black kids who work hard at school are said to be ostracized by their peers. Despite a lot of talk about the problem–Barack Obama raised it in his famous speech to the Democratic National Convention–some academic researchers weren’t convinced that it existed…
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