Jan 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Georgia, Texas top ranking of states with "most racial progress"

Vehicles travel along a highway in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023.

Vehicles travel along a highway in downtown Atlanta. Photo: Alyssa Pointer/Bloomberg via Getty Image

Georgia and Texas, two states in the American South with a history of racial discrimination, top the list of WalletHub's 2024 ranking of "States with the Most Racial Progress."

The big picture: The release of the WalletHub ranking coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as the nation's population and electorate become more diverse.

By the numbers: Georgia ranked No. 1 on WalletHub's 2024 ranking. It's reduced the gap between the earnings of white and Black Americans by over 32% since 1979, the most significant reduction in the nation, the study said.

  • The Peach State has also decreased the gap in business ownership by over 11% since 2002 — and is among the few states that have reduced the poverty rate of Black residents.
  • Texas came in second and led the nation in reducing the gap in health insurance coverage between white and Black residents.
  • Mississippi, in third, has closed the poverty rate gap by nearly 27% since 1970, the highest reduction in the U.S.

Yes, but: The rankings appeared to mainly measure gaps between white and Black residents and didn't include data on Latinos, Native Americans, or Asian Americans — the largest non-white ethnic or racial groups in many states.

But, but, but: The study is a testimony to the gains made since the Civil Rights Movement, Arndrea Waters King, president of the Drum Major Institute, a civil rights think tank, tells Axios.

  • "It's a sense of pride that Georgia is at the top of that list, particularly since it is the birth, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement," said King, the daughter-in-law of the late Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the civil rights leader, said Georgia also shines on Black political engagement, another measure examined by WalletHub.
  • "The model that Georgia has, perhaps, can be duplicated and over communities around our nation."

Between the lines: Though the WalletHub ranking highlights racial progress, it's important to remember how far behind some states were in the 1960s, Cynthia Duarte, director of the Sarah W. Heath Center for Equality and Justice at California Lutheran University, tells Axios.

  • "Also, who takes the credit for this progress? Are we saying that the state of Georgia is so great? Or is this because of the work of unnamed activists and churches? This is what the data doesn't tell us."
  • Duarte said the data on racial progress is misleading if it excludes Asian Americans and Latinos or at least should be presented as an assessment of Black Americans.
Top 10 states for racial progress in employment and wealth, 2024
Data: WalletHub; Note: Metrics include median annual household income, labor-force participation rate, unemployment rate, homeownership rate, poverty rate, business ownership rate, and share of executives; Table: Axios Visuals

Flashback: The poverty rate for Black Americans was 34.7% in 1968, the year MLK was assassinated.

  • The poverty rate for Black Americans was 17.1% in 2021.
  • The percentage of Black American adults with a four-year college degree increased by about 24 percentage points from 1964 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census.

Zoom in: Georgia and Mississippi ranked one and two on equitable employment and wealth rankings, according to WalletHub.

  • They were followed by Connecticut and Alabama, respectively.

Of note: Alabama has the highest percentage of Latinos (27.6%) in poverty of any state, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

  • Around 22.4% of Latinos in Mississippi also are in poverty.

Methodology: WalletHub measured the gaps between Black and white residents in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key dimensions: 1) Employment & Wealth, 2) Education 3) Social & Civic Engagement and 4) Health.

  • WalletHub evaluated those dimensions using 22 relevant metrics. The data set ranges from median annual household income to standardized test scores to voter turnout.
  • Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest level of racial integration and progress.
Go deeper