Is Middle Class Out Of Reach For The Black Millennial?

Study shows that blacks born into middle class families are more likely to slip back into poverty.


Last week, I stayed up until 4am while the collection of financial struggles I'm currently dealing with came to a head: How the hell am I ever going to retire comfortably if I can barely maintain my modest little lifestyle as it stands?

Retirement has been on my mind since I turned 30.

It's probably because I have been uncomfortably unemployed for the past four months and have been entertaining some serious concerns about my professional and financial future. For some reason, nothing quite gets my tear ducts burning as much as my parents asking how my job search going and seeing those Colonial Penn commercials.

Ever since my mom retired last summer, she has spent her days puttering around in her garden and taking day trips to New Jersey shopping malls with my father. These days most of her major decisions are whether to plant the yellow or the red begonias while my father sits on the patio catching up on the latest James Patterson novel next to their sunbathing Chihuahua. All that's missing from their lives is real estate in Kissimmee, Florida. For a few minutes each visit I find myself being lowkey jealous of the fact they're an example of what retirement looks like when it goes right. They've reached a point where they can actually enjoy the fruits of their labor.

A recent study revealed I'm not completely overreacting in my worry that my financial future won't look nearly as bright as my parents'. According to the article titled How Black Middle Class Kids Become Black Lower Class Adults, published in The Atlantic earlier this year, being raised black and middle-class may not give you a head start over your peers who were raised at a lower income level. In fact, “when black families attain middle-class status, the likelihood that their children will remain there, or do better, isn't high," it reads. Considering factors such as parental income, education and family structure, black have "substantially less upward intergenerational mobility and substantially more downward intergenerational mobility than whites."

In other words, being black and born into any kind of privilege doesn't guarantee you as much of a permanent spot in middle class as it may your white counterparts.

However, the study fails to give a clear reason exactly why this is happening. Economists' best explanations are criticisms that have been the center of conversations on Americans race and wage divisions for several decades: lower educational attainment, higher rates of single-parent households and geographic segregation. Basically, on average, blacks still tend to be less educated than their white counterparts and more likely to be raised in households headed by a single parent.

Lastly that little thing that goes by the fancy label “geographic segregation" means that we are less likely to live in neighborhoods, attend school with or socialize with those involved in successful networks resulting in less exposure to educational and professional opportunities.

While economists debate over studies, statistics and fancy terminology all I can lend my opinion on is what I am currently witnessing:

Working class ain't what it used to be.

Both my parents turned their two-year degrees into 20-year careers in the medical profession, making a decent salary where they could afford to get a new car every five or six years, take their daughters on a vacation every summer and live in a neighborhood where gunshots weren't apart of the regularly scheduled program. We weren't The Huxtables, but we did OK. But OK is looking more and more intangible to me and my fellow millennials. During my job search I've noticed a very unsettling pattern of positions that lists pages and pages of qualifications that ask candidates be prepared to present everything short of a kidney and a graduate degree just to start at a salary that's barely above minimum wage.

Another challenge to today's millennials is supporting parents while attempting to build a life of your own.It seems that those of us who aren't struggling to maintain the middle class lives are parents worked hard to set up for us are sacrificing our own growth to support our parents. Just last week a friend of mine who recently hit 30 questioned her independence since student loans, being the breadwinner for mother and sister, and wanting to actually enjoy a few of the dollars she spends 40 hours each working for left her choosing between rent for an apartment and a car note. She chose the car note to get to the job that will allow her to support her mom and sisters. And so the cycle continues.

The middle class American dream is beginning to feel just like that: Something us millennials are all getting a rude awakening from.

Although I still can't help but feeling like it's taking our generation so much more to get so much less, there is good news: Growing up in a recession taught our generation that structure and stability via the government aren't guaranteed. Because of that I firmly believe millennials have been forced to get creative about getting ish done.

The way the world is set up, there's a good chance that a retirement like my parents may be very well out my reach. But whether we're getting a cosmetic company contract via a YouTube channel or turning celebrity blogging into big business, most of us have been willing to sacrifice working toward a pension via a typical 9-to-5 schedule to bigger possibilities. We are questioning the stagnant ways of the workforce as we know it one “Why not?" at a time. Millennials are the masters of efficiency, creativity and innovation, so if you think about it, maybe we're selling ourselves a little short by making middle class the goal.

Featured image by Getty Images

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