A sobering explanation for stalled racial progress, in one chart

Today’s commemoration of the March on Washington—including President Obama’s much-anticipated speech—will no doubt bring discussions of how far we’ve come in closing white/black divides—and how far we still have to go. My hope is that the President has the courage (as he has before) to mention one of the biggest drivers of continued inequality: the huge chasm in single-parent families by race.

Family Composition v. 4th Grade NAEP Reading

(Reading data are from the National Assessment of Education Progress; family composition data are just out from the Census this week.)

To be sure, there are many reasons for the high rate of “fatherless families” among blacks: eye-popping incarceration rates, significant teenage-pregnancy rates, poor job prospects, etc. Thankfully, some of these indicators are starting to trend in the right direction.

But let us not partake in the soft bigotry of low expectations. Virtually everyone in America—regardless of race, class, or educational background—agrees that children generally do better in stable, two-parent families. That ideal is not always possible. But the expectation should be clear: Young people need to finish their education, find a job, get married, and then start a family, in that order. This “success sequence” is the surest route to reducing child poverty, alleviating income inequality, and closing our still-stark racial gaps. Here’s hoping the President will say so.

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