Gap grows for income of whites, nonwhites (Tulsa World)

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By CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer

Black, American Indian and Hispanic households all lost ground to white households in median incomes, Census figures show.

One observer said the trend is indicative of the poor economy hitting minorities harder than the white population.

“Unless something is done to reverse the trend and close the gap, it’s not going to get smaller,” said Kate Richey, a policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which advocates for the poor.

The growing income gap is widest between white and black households, according to Census data.

The gap in the median income between those two groups in Oklahoma increased from $11,565 in 1999 to $17,488.

The latter figure is based on data gathered by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey during the period of 2006 through 2010.

The 1999 median income among white households in Oklahoma was $35,377, meaning half of the households made less and half made more. The 1999 median income among black households in the state was $23,812.

Estimated median Oklahoma income in 2006-2010 increased to $45,992 for white households and to $28,504 for black households.

The income gap between white and black households was more pronounced in Tulsa County than in the state as a whole, according to the most recent Census data.

The 2006-2010 median income in Tulsa County among white households was $50,842, while it was $25,979 among black households.

Meanwhile, black households had the smallest rate of growth in median income at the local, state and national levels.

Statewide, the growth rate of median household income since 1999 was as follows:

Asian households, 46 percent

American Indian households, 32 percent

White households, 30 percent

Hispanic households, 23 percent

Black households, 20 percent

In Tulsa County, black median household income increased 13 percent since 1999.

Asian median household income had the largest growth rate in Tulsa County since 1999 at 29 percent, compared to 23 percent for white households and 26 percent for American Indian households.

The median income among all households in Oklahoma increased 29 percent since 1999.

“Clearly with the exception of Asians, white wealth has outpaced nonwhite wealth,” Richey said.

“African-Americans in particular have fallen behind, and it has everything to do with employment opportunities,” Richey said.

“African-American unemployment has been about double, sometimes higher, over the past decade compared to white unemployment,” Richey said.

“They are also a lot more likely to be underemployed compared to whites and compared to other minority groups,” Richey said.

Employment and promotion discrimination are other reasons for the income disparity, Richey said.

“Being able to find a job, being able to find a job that pays enough is particularly a challenge for African-Americans in this state, and higher incarceration rates make that even more difficult,” Richey said.

Blacks were also much harder hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, Richey said.

While Oklahoma did not see widespread foreclosures, there was a significant uptick in foreclosures on homes owned by racial minorities, especially in Tulsa County and Oklahoma County, Richey said.

Mana Tahaie, director of Racial Justice at the Tulsa YWCA, said two factors are at work in the wage disparity.

People of color have historically had lower rates of access to means of increasing their income, Tahaie said. People of color typically live in areas where public schools have lower test scores and lower graduation rates, she said.

Nonwhites also are more likely to have less access to professional networks – the ability to know people who know people, Tahaie said.

“Oftentimes the way we obtain professional advancement is people that we know, know other people who are looking for people,” she said.

“And so when you are living in an environment where those networks are pretty tight, having access to those networks can be a really significant way of obtaining professional advancement.

“And living in a community like Tulsa, which I think is pretty safe to say is still pretty segregated, means that we live in an environment where it’s harder to get access to those informal networks of influence that allow us to have more formal economic advancement.”

Richey said targeted economic development incentives for communities of color and the long-term unemployed are needed, Richey said.

“It’s going to take a serious effort,” she said. “It’s one that I haven’t seen.”

Meanwhile, a north Tulsa minister said increasing both the family and education bases are the biggest issues contributing to the income gap.

“The income disparity has always been based upon education, and everybody knows that,” said Donald O’Neil Tyler, pastor of Greater Grace Temple.

“So family and education go hand in hand,” Tyler said. “If you can bring both of those to a higher level of excellence, you could increase our earning power.”

More local numbers:

The median income among American Indians and Hispanics in Tulsa County was more than that among black households but below whites and Asians.

The 2006-2010 median income for American Indian households was $36,133 in Oklahoma and $40,392 in Tulsa County.

The 2006-2010 median income for Hispanic households was $34,193 in Oklahoma and $35,130 in Tulsa County.

Asian households ranked No. 1 in median income at the national and local levels.

The 2006-2010 median income for Asian households was $50,303 in Oklahoma and $55,105 in Tulsa County.


Oklahoma Policy Insititute (OK Policy) advances equitable and fiscally responsible policies that expand opportunity for all Oklahomans through non-partisan research, analysis, and advocacy.

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