Fortunately, the winds of change breeze through the black electorate. A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies poll showed 63 percent of blacks identifying themselves as Democrats in 2002, down from 74 percent in 2000. An agenda focusing on issues like school choice, ownership and wealth creation is being championed by new black leaders like DC mayor Anthony Williams and Representative Harold Ford.
These developments are not accidental. Blacks are beginning to understand that they need to look to themselves rather than government to solve their problems. Certainly, if growth in government and political power translated into well-being, blacks would be in great shape today. Non-defense related federal government spending, as a percentage of GDP, is now twice what it was in 1964. Today there are 39 black members of Congress, eight times as many as in 1964. More than half of our States, including the District of Columbia, now have cities with black mayors.
Yet, these considerable gains in political power have not translated commensurately into better lives for African Americans. Certainly, a new black middle class has emerged. Black households earning more than $100,000/year have increased tenfold since the 60's. However, these amount to just 6 percent of all black households, and a third of the percentage of white households in this income bracket.
Overall gains by blacks over the last 40 years are, on average, modest or non-existent. Median black incomes are now around 80 percent of those of whites, up from 70 percent 40 years ago. Median black household net worth remains around 17 percent that of whites. Black life expectancy is about 5 years less than whites, a modest improvement from the 60's.
Although there have been impressive quantitative gains in black educational achievement - the number of blacks with high school diplomas and college degrees has tripled - the qualitative picture is more sobering. Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom report in their new book "No Excuses" that the average black student "at the end of high school has academic skills that are about at the eight-grade level."