Progress but Not Post-Racial


cover Progress but Not Post-Racial: Human Development and the Obama Years investigates the question of whether America has become a “post-racial” society following the election of a black president. The analysis concludes that, while we have seen steady, incremental progress following the crippling effects of the Great Recession—especially for blacks and Latinos in the education dimension—there is still much work to be done, particularly in regards to median personal earnings for all racial groups (except for Asians) and well-being for Native Americans across all dimensions of the Index.

This brief represents the most recent calculations of the American Human Development Index (from 2014 data) for the five largest racial and ethnic groups in the United States as well as a trend analysis of these groups since 2000 and 2008, just before Preside Obama took office.

The findings in this report raise important questions: How do we maintain the progress that has been made and build upon it during the next presidential administration? What policy actions need to be taken to improve median personal earnings and Native American well-being? 


  • The good news is that human development scores for the population as a whole as well as for four racial and ethnic groups has increased steadily since the start of the new millennium. Since 2000, the U.S. well-being score went from 4.76 to 5.11, an increase of 7 percent.
  • The bad news is that the disparities between racial and ethnic groups not only remained sizeable, but the gap between the extremes grew. The gap between the top- and bottom-performing groups in 2000 (Asian Americans and blacks), 3.17 percentage points, was smaller than the current gap between the top and bottom (Asian Americans and Native Americans), 4.03 points.
  • Asian Americans top the chart with an Index score of 7.27 and live longer than other groups: 87.5 years. More than half the adults age 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees; and median personal earnings are $36,256. All these values far outstrip those of other groups.
  • Though both blacks and Latinos have well-being scores below the national average, 3.84 and 4.19, respectively, they gained the most ground between 2000 and 2014. The Latino score increased by 18 percent, the black score by 14 percent (see Figure 1) and improved significantly in the education dimension.
  • Native American well-being, already comparatively low in 2000, tumbled in absolute and relative terms. The 2014 score, 3.24, was 11 percent lower than their 2000 score. Life expectancy fell to 75.1 years, educational progress was slower than for other groups, and earnings dropped by more than 10 percent.
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