The Black-White Income Differential--Posner's Comment
According to Census statistics, average black family income was only 51 percent of average white family income in 1947, but rose to 56 percent in 1964, the year that the federal law forbidding employment discrimination (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) was enacted. The gap continued to narrow for some years, as Becker notes; by 1990, average black family income had risen to 63 percent of average white family income. But it has not risen (it may have fallen slightly) since then. Notice that the annual rate at which the gap shrank was much faster before the modern civil rights era ushered in by Title VII--6 percent in 17 years, versus 7 percent in the next 36 years.
It is nowhere written that all ethnic groups shall have the same average income, but the white population is itself an amalgam of ethnic groups; and it is not as if blacks are newcomers to America, who would be expected to lag the average income of the settled population.
Quite apart from the black "stars" whom Becker mentions, there is a large and thriving black middle- and upper-middle class. The income gap, and the related gaps in longevity, law-abidingness, education, and family stability, are due to the disproportionate incidence of social disorder among blacks, creating a large black "underclass" that drags black average-income statistics down.
There was very little civil rights law before Title VII; nevertheless the black-white income differential narrowed more rapidly in that benighted era than it has since. It is possible that antidiscrimination laws do not benefit their intended beneficiaries, because they give the beneficiaries a sense of entitlement and victimhood, foster tokenism, increase employers' costs, cast a shadow over the real achievements of outstanding members of the "benefited" group, create an unhealthy preoccupation with racial and ethnic identity, and cause white backlash. It is also possible that the sexual revolution of the 1960s promoted the break-up of the black family--of the white too, but the whites were in a better position to adapt. To the extent that the "Great Society" programs of the 1960s and the social disorder of the same period are correlated phenomena, together constituting a lurch to the Left, the net effect on black progress may have been negative.
Probably the focus of reform should not be on the black-white income gap as such but on the social pathologies that are responsible (at least in part) for it. The best approach might simply be to remove obstacles to labor mobility and to competition more generally; Becker mentions school vouchers and charter schools. In addition, reducing or eliminating the minimum wage would expand employment opportunities for blacks. Measures can also be taken to reduce the out-of-wedlock birth rate of blacks; in this regard the Administration's effort to stress abstinence, rather than contraception, as a means of limiting teenage pregnancy is misguided.
But there seems to be little political pressure for such reforms. The costs of the social disorders that afflict poor blacks are incurred mainly by poor blacks themselves, and poor blacks do not vote very much. Moreover, blacks support the Democratic Party so overwhelmingly that Democrat politicians have little incentive to expend their necessarily limited political capital on policies that might benefit blacks at the expense of groups that are in play between the two parties, such as public school teachers. A step in the right direction might be to allow (as many states already do) felons who have completed their sentence to vote.