Jan 16, 2024 - News

North Carolina is a top state for racial progress, according to study

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

North Carolina is among the top 10 in the country for "States with the Most Racial Progress," according to a recently released WalletHub ranking, Axios' Russell Contreras writes.

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: North Carolina came in at No. 10 on WalletHub's 2024 ranking, as it ranked among the best of states with the smallest gaps between white and Black Americans in health and employment and wealth.

Yes, but: It's all relative. Though other states may be worse, North Carolina's maternal mortality for Black women, for example, is abysmal: Black mothers die at twice the rate of white women in the state.

  • The racial gap in infant mortality here is even worse. Black babies are 2.5 times more likely to die than white babies, according to the state health department.

Zoom out: Georgia ranked #1 overall in part because it has 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 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.

Of note: The rankings appeared to measure gaps between white and Black residents mainly 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 testimony to the gains 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 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

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.
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