The Great Migration
From the 1950s through the 1960s, about 5 million Blacks moved to the North and West to take manufacturing and related jobs. There was a severe labor shortage because of a national shutdown of immigration combined with post-WWII expansion. The purpose of immigration is to fill national labor gaps, but post world war, the United States did not want an influx of immigrants in addition to the return of our fighters. Blacks and women entered the workforce during the wars. When those wars ended and women returned home, Black Americans were called up to fill the labor gap. At the end of the Civil War, 90% of Black Americans lived in the South. After the Great Migration, 47% of those Blacks lived in the North and West… mostly in the Northern states.
Current history books, if they teach the Great Migration at all, will tell you that Blacks left the South to escape Jim Crow and dangerous racism. That was part of the picture. What they don’t teach you is that the greater driver was not race. It was jobs and the opportunity to escape the poverty of farming. If you look at the modern landscape of where Blacks are concentrated today, you will find that the concentrated poor urban communities we see today are where these Black Americans settled.
Why Does The Disparity Exist More 50 Years Later?
The average Black American moved North and West with a 6th-grade education. If there is a major lasting side effect of Jim Crow and slavery, that side effect was an institutional lack of education. The manufacturing economy hid this problem because the basic literacy of a 6th-grade education is all you needed to learn to build a car or manufacture other goods. The economy around these manufacturing hubs allowed Blacks to enter the middle class for the first time. As manufacturing hubs died, the lack of education in Black communities created the issues of disparity we see today. As manufacturing moved overseas, urban poverty took over these cities. That is why the Black rise out of poverty stalled after 1968.
In this groundbreaking study, University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings showed extraordinary disparities between the number of words spoken. After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in children’s knowledge and other skills. Children from high-income families were exposed to 3 times more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s academic performance throughout their life.
The results of the Hart and Riley study have profound indications for poor families. It means that efforts to educate inner-city Black children are handicapped by their parents’ lack of vocabulary. The number of words parents use at home is a key driver of future academic performance and life success. The lack of parent vocabulary causes generational academic underperformance.
Today’s racial disparity was caused by the denial of education to Black Americans combined with segregationist policies in the past. But segregation is gone and Blacks have educational opportunities. Systemic racism is not what is holding Black America back today. Recognition of the facts and a lack of rigor in reading programs are maintaining the systemic poverty we see today. In charter schools with rigorous reading programs that span from kindergarten to high school, Blacks and other minorities outperform their White counterparts from regular inner-city public schools.