Charts of the Week: Black inventors; Black-white wealth gap; Black men poorly served by schools


On this first Friday of Black History Month, a focus on research and data that illuminate some of the conditions experienced by Black Americans, including innovation, wealth, and education. For more, visit the Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative.

Fig1Jonathan Rothwell, Andre Perry, and Mike Andrews write that the “history of Black people’s contributions to the catalog of inventions that marked the Industrial Revolution has been largely muted” and that “the disregard of many of the era’s Black inventors not only whitewashes the historical record, but biases who we perceive to be innovators in the present.” Among their findings in this research on patents between 1870 to 1940: in the North, Black people’s share of patents equaled their share of the population in that region (1.6%); and Black people’s share of inventions was higher than all immigrant groups except those from England and Germany.

Figure 1Researchers from the Hamilton Project at Brookings look at how wealth contributes to a household’s ability to meet economic shocks from the coronavirus pandemic. “In 2019,” they observe, “the median white household held $188,200 in wealth—7.8 times that of the typical Black household.” Further, they note, while Black households comprise 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, they hold just 4 percent of total household wealth. “The Black-white wealth gap,” they add, “serves as an important factor in understanding how economic recoveries can become uneven and unequal across demographics.”

In November 2020, the Center on Children and Families at Brookings launched a new Boys and Men Project to focus on policymaking in education and training, work, family policy, criminal justice, and poverty, with particular attention to improving the conditions of Black boys and men. In a piece highlighting outcomes for Black men in eight key dimensions, researchers Richard Reeves, Sara Nzau, and Ember Smith note (as one of the eight dimensions) the education gap between Black men and all others. “In 2019,” they write, “28% of Black men ages 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30% of Black women, over 40% of white men, and nearly half of white women.”