A year or two ago, sociologist Dalton Conley issued an updated 10th anniversary edition of an important analytical book on race in the United States. In it, he does compelling work disentangling the relative contributions of race and class (and especially wealth rather than income) to the achievement gaps that separate American blacks and whites. The policy implications are huge.

Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America sums up its findings:

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  • . . . if we simply contrast blacks and whites without regard to socioeconomic background, we find that African Americans are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to complete college, that they are employed for fewer hours and earn less money per hour than whites, that they have lower levels of wealth, and that they are more likely to have a child out of wedlock or to use welfare as young adults. But if we statistically compare blacks and whites who are similar in terms of their individual characteristics (age, gender, number of siblings, and, in some analyses, education and income levels), their family backgrounds (parents’ age, whether they grew up in a female-headed household or one that used welfare), and their class origins (parents’ education level and occupational prestige, as well as their family’s permanent income, net worth, and types of assets), we find that these racial differences change significantly in magnitude and sometimes even in direction. For instance, when class background is equalized, blacks are just as likely as whites to have completed college. When we take into consideration parental assets, we find that the black-white wealth gap among young adults disappears. Racial differences in the chance of using welfare among this age group also vanish.

    In certain analyses, race remains a significant predictor of life outcomes, sometimes in the same direction we would expect . . . For instance, even when we control for class background, African Americans still tend to be employed for fewer hours and are still more likely to have children outside marriage—although these differences are greatly reduced in magnitude. . .

    . . . in almost all instances presented in this book socioeconomic variables have a much greater impact in predicting outcomes than does skin color or racial identity for this recent cohort (young adults who have grown up since the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s).

    Conley goes on to sketch a dramatically different public policy approach to redressing the achievement gap than is normally discussed. Rather than focusing on equality of opportunity in education and employment, he recommends focusing on programs that remedy inequality of ownership of assets, including homes, financial investments, and businesses. He also argues for class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action. Plenty of food for thought!

    Also: Here’s an interesting article on immigration from Mexico.


    R.I.P. Ray Bradbury.  I was a big Bradbury fan in my youth—and to this day, I can still recall that peculiar mixture of awe, dread, excitement, and melancholy that I felt while reading The Illustrated Man.

    And, I’m not normally a fan of car ads, but this one made me smile.

    Eric d P:

    My sole recommendation this week has little to do with the Northwest, but it’s a great read all the same. Ian Frazier’s, “Travels in Siberia” isn’t exactly concise, but it manages to illuminate the history and culture of a region occupying fully one-twelfth of the world’s land but that scarcely registers in our consciousness. The NYT Book Review does a much better job describing it than I could hope to:

    Frazier suggests that the country’s opaqueness has given it a twisted appeal. “Russia is older, crookeder, more obscure,” he writes, experiencing a “shiver of patriotism” on a flight back to the Unted States, just days after 9/11. He’s also fascinated by the role Siberia has played in the Russian psyche, recounting in bloody detail the exploits of the Golden Horde, the Mongol conquerors who rode out of the Asian steppe and reduced Kiev and other cities to smoldering ruins strewn with corpses.

    If I’ve piqued your interest, go read that.


    Worth a listen: Governor Brian Schweitzer’s inspired rant about the Montana challenge to Citizens United. (See also his NYT op-ed on the subject).

    Pew polling on American values shows startling trends in partisan polarization in the Bush and Obama years.

    More via Chris Mooney on the strange ways our brains work (or don’t): Another study shows that the more knowledge conservatives have about the science, the less concern they have about global warming.

    Finally, are you an artist? The Union of Concerned Scientists has a contest going for cartoons that explore the “complex relationship between science and democracy in America.”