By Jens Manuel Krogstad
Since 1976, Black History Month has been celebrated every February to commemorate the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. In 2013, there were more than 38 million black Americans, a 74% increase since 1970, and the population is projected to grow to more than 55 million by 2060.
Over the past nearly 40 years, blacks have made progress on several fronts, including educational attainment and voting rates, but large gaps by race persist in areas such as wealth and poverty measures. Here are some facts about black Americans:
1High school dropout rates have declined faster among blacks ages 18 to 24 than the national average. Among blacks, the rate dropped from 24% in 1976 to 8% in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Among all Americans, the rate also decreased, from 16% to 7% over this time period. At the same time, the share of blacks who have graduated from college has increased faster than the national average. For blacks, the share 25 and older who have at least a bachelor’s degree has increased from 7% in 1976 to 22% in 2013. Among all Americans, the share has increased from 15% to 32% over the same time period.
2In the last presidential election, the black voter turnout rate exceeded that of whites in a presidential election for the first time, by 66.6% to 64.1%. It’s worth noting that in 2004, the last presidential election without Barack Obama on the ballot, the white voter turnout rate exceeded that of blacks by a substantial margin (67.2% of eligible white voters to 60.3% blacks). The gap in turnout rates between whites and blacks has been closing over time. In recent decades, the white-black gap in turnout rates was widest in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected (70.2% to 59.2%).
3From 1910 to 1970, about 6 million blacks left the South to move to other parts of the country in what is called the Great Migration. Since then, this trend has reversed, in part because of the decline of industrial jobs in Northern cities that pushed blacks south starting in the 1970s, according to the Brookings Institution. From 1970 to 2010, the black population increased by about 10 million in the South and just 6 million in the rest of the country. Today most of the country’s black population (57%) lives in the South, up from 52% to 1970. Blacks are the largest nonwhite racial or ethnic group in 13 of 16 Southern states and in the District of Columbia. In these states, the black population is at least twice that of Hispanics.
4The poverty rate among blacks is the highest of any racial or ethnic group, but has declined slightly over time, from 31.3% in 1976 to 27.2% in 2014, according to census data. By comparison, the overall U.S. poverty rate has increased from 12.3% in 1976 to 14.9% in 2014. Blacks also fare worse than other groups in terms of wealth. In 2013, the median wealth of white households ($141,900) was 13 times the median wealth of black households ($11,000), the widest gap since 1989, according to a Pew Research analysis of Federal Reserve survey data.
5Barack Obama overshadows others as the nation’s most important black leader. A two-thirds majority of blacks in 2011 said Obama was the most important black leader in the U.S., according to a Washington Post poll. Some 7% named Martin Luther King Jr., and 16% offered no opinion. Various surveys show Jesse Jackson had been the top choice in previous decades. In 2006, 15% of blacks named Jackson the nation’s most important black leader (11% said Condoleezza Rice and 8% said Colin Powell). In 1994, 34% of blacks said Jackson, down from 51% in 1983.