President Barack Obama won an unprecedented 96 percent of the black vote. That's not much of a news story since blacks typically give their votes to the Democratic candidate. Blacks are probably the most politically loyal people in the nation and it is almost taken as gospel, at least among civil rights organizations and black and white liberals, that the only way black people can make socioeconomic progress is through the politics of race and special government programs. However, such a vision can be subjected to empirical evidence.
In 1940, when blacks were politically impotent, their poverty rate was 87 percent. By 1960, before blacks achieved much political power, it fell to 47 percent. During that interval, in various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled. Before 1960, there were no anti-poverty programs or affirmative action programs that can explain an economic advance that exceeded any other 20-year interval, though there were Truman and Eisenhower administration attacks on some of the gross forms of racial discrimination. A significant chunk of black progress occurred simply through migration from rural areas in the South to big Northern cities. Between 1960 and 1980, black poverty fell roughly 17 percent and continued falling to today's 24 percent. The decline in black poverty between 1960 and 1980 might have simply been a continuation of a trend starting much earlier and cannot be attributed solely to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, President Johnson's War on Poverty, or Richard Nixon's affirmative action.