Does a rising tide lift all boats? Does wealth really trickle down? These are some staple assumptions of the American economic system. However, U.S. data collected over the last 40 years, a period in which the U.S. economy experienced unprecedented growth and generated enormous wealth, instead shows rising inequality over the same period as wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. The close connection between race and socioeconomic status (at least that, other factors such as geographic distribution and racism play a role) has meant that African Americans are even more likely not to benefit from economic good times. Increased economic inequality appears to have an adverse effect on a host of other social indicators such as child health, educational attainment, and incarceration rates (see Haveman et al. “Trends in Children’s
Attainments and Their Determinants as Family Income Inequality has Increased.” in Neckerman,Kathryn, M. ed. Social Inequality).
While the data would lead me to suspect that a rising tide does not lift all boats, this New York Times article
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/us/17county.html) suggests that when the tide goes out, or at least during as severe an economic downturn as the current one, race is less of a factor in the rise of poor people. That is, both black and whites are experiencing economic difficulties at about the same rate as before (that is, there is no increase in inequality between the groups although whites are still relatively better off). It should be noted, however, that the black middle class generally has less wealth to fall back on when economic lean times hit (see Conley, D. Being Black, Living in the Red).
It would be great if folks in the U.S. were as willing to share the wealth as they were to share the hardship.