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Despite progress, income gap persists for Black Virginians

A white hand holding a stack of bills, and a black hand holding a smaller stack of bills
Jon Krause

Despite rising steadily over the past 50 years, median family income for Black Virginians has lagged consistently at about 70 percent of Virginia’s total median family income since 1970. Researcher Hamilton Lombard (Col ’11) of UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service analyzed that persistent gap for the center’s StatCh@t web series and noted positive gains but also concerning trends.

For example, the rate of home ownership among Black Virginians—“a central indicator of the capacity to accumulate assets,” Lombard writes—has declined for decades; in counties including Fairfax and Chesterfield it is lower than in 1940. But he also found the income gap is only 10 percent between Black Virginians with a bachelor’s degree and all Virginians with a bachelor’s degree, and narrower still between those with advanced degrees. He also notes progress in educational attainment; the share of Black Virginians 25 to 35 years old holding at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 28 percent from 2 percent in 1970. Yet here also a gap remains, because the share of all Virginians in that age group holding at least a bachelor’s degree has risen to 42 percent from 7. Lombard suggests that as the “wage premium” for college graduates has grown, Black Virginians continue to be disadvantaged by historical inequities in access to education. “Given that parents’ and grandparents’ educational attainment is one of the best determinants of their children and grandchildren’s educational attainment,” Lombard writes, “Virginia’s education and income gaps may take a long time to close.”