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The advancement of black women was even more impressive.
Black life expectancy went up dramatically, as did black homeownership rates.
In fact, not only did significant advances pre-date the affirmative action era, but the benefits of race-conscious politics are not clear.
Important differences (a slower overall rate of economic growth, most notably) separate the pre-1970 and post-1970 periods, making comparison difficult.
When Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma in 1944, most blacks lived in the South and on the land as laborers and sharecroppers.
(Only one in eight owned the land on which he worked.) A trivial 5 percent of black men nationally were engaged in nonmanual, white-collar work of any kind; the vast majority held ill-paid, insecure, manual jobs—jobs that few whites would take.
New Deal legislation, which set minimum wages and hours and eliminated the incentive of southern employers to hire low-wage black workers, put a damper on further industrial development in the region.
In addition, the trend toward mechanized agriculture and a diminished demand for American cotton in the face of international competition combined to displace blacks from the land.
Segregation in the South and discrimination in the North did create a sheltered market for some black businesses (funeral homes, beauty parlors, and the like) that served a black community barred from patronizing “white” establishments. Beginning in the 1940s, however, deep demographic and economic change, accompanied by a marked shift in white racial attitudes, started blacks down the road to much greater equality.For instance, today more than 30 percent of black men and nearly 60 percent of black women hold white-collar jobs.Whereas in 1970 only 2.2 percent of American physicians were black, the figure is now 4.5 percent.Another 24 percent had semiskilled factory jobs that meant membership in the stable working class, while the proportion of black women working as servants had been cut in half.Even those who did not move up into higher-ranking jobs were doing much better. From 1940 to 1970, black men cut the income gap by about a third, and by 1970 they were earning (on average) roughly 60 percent of what white men took in.
Black college enrollment also rose—by 1970 to about 10 percent of the total, three times the prewar figure.