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Black upward mobility strongest in diverse neighborhoods with mentorship opportunities, says Census Bureau

Where Black families achieve the American dream
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Where Black families achieve the American dream
Key Points
  • Neighborhood qualities such as income and safety influence life outcomes, according to the Census Bureau.
  • Residential areas with low levels of incarceration and more relaxed racial attitudes produce more upwardly mobile Black children.
  • Roughly 5% of U.S. neighborhoods have features that are improving economic conditions for the average African American male, according to the study.

Families have long sought to move toward better neighborhoods and schools to put their kids on the pathway toward success. A study from the Census Bureau is providing fresh insight on where to look.

It revealed significant racial disparities between demographic groups. For example, white families have strong rates of upward mobility in high-income neighborhoods. But in many cases, Black families are losing wealth generation by generation.

Low-income Black boys had the most success in neighborhoods that had low incarceration rates and a large adult male population. Another key factor is low racial discrimination, measured using tests for implicit bias and racial animus using Google search results.

An interactive map based on a collaboration by researchers at the Census Bureau, Harvard University and Brown University shows which neighborhoods are most likely to produce children who move into higher tax brackets. The dataset contains 35 years of anonymized tax filings from 20 million Americans.

Ellora Derenoncourt, an economics professor at Princeton University, told CNBC the findings raise big questions: "Should we blame poverty on people and individuals and the choices they've made? Or are there external factors that are really determining their life course?"

In select neighborhoods of Maryland, Virginia and New York, Black households produced children who went on to out-earn the national median as they matured into adulthood. Neighborhoods in Houston and Atlanta have results that show where targeted improvements are having a big impact.

Improving conditions for the Black labor force is a key issue for businesses. Federal labor statistics often reveal that Black workers bear the brunt of economic recession. "The reasons for that basically boil down to lack of mentorship and a lot of Black workers being tied up in jobs that don't provide a clear pathway up," said Shelley Stewart III, a partner at McKinsey & Company.

Watch the video above to learn more about the most successful neighborhoods for Black families today.