"The story of Negro economic progress in Delaware between 1865 and 1915 is quickly told: there was none," wrote Amy Hiller in an historical study of blacks in 1968. She indicated further that little economic progress was achieved between 1890 and 1940.
"The Negro was on the bottom of the economic ladder, and his position did not improve significantly until World War II. Throughout the period from the end of the Civil War to the Second World War, the Negro was totally excluded from all white collar jobs, and his share of skilled and semi-skilled positions decreased" (pp. 102).
Since that time, doors to greater social, political, and economic opportunities have been opened for blacks creating improvements in the quality of life for some and a decline for others. One consequence of these recent changes is that black communities across the country have found themselves in a state of transition. While blacks have seen improvements in educational, income, and occupational opportunities, questions remain about the improvements relative to the white community. For example, blacks still lag far behind whites in educational, income, and employment attainment. To further complicate matters, the black population has become less socially, politically, and economically similar. For the first time in American history, blacks are becoming a population divided by class.
The socioeconomic transition for black populations in Delaware and the Eastern Shore are very similar to the national patterns. Some sectors of the black population are much better off than others. Overall, in the end of the century, the socioeconomic progress of blacks in Delaware and the Eastern Shore is measurably greater than it was in the early 1900s.
The objective of this chapter is threefold: first, to profile the current socioeconomic status of the black populations in Delaware and the Eastern Shore; second, to examine the socioeconomic transition of black communities in the various counties since the end of World War II; and the third to examine the extent to which there are similarities and differences in the current socioeconomic status of black and white populations.
In Delaware, the units of analysis will be its three counties in Delaware: Kent, New Castle, and Sussex. In Maryland, the units will be the nine Maryland counties with shore lines (or partial shore lines) east of the Chesapeake River known as the Eastern Shore of Maryland. These nine counties include Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne'ss, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester. To paint a portrait of the socioeconomic transition that has occurred within the black population over the last 40 years, educational and income development, poverty, and labor force changes will be examined.
Demographic Analysis and Trends Since 1950
In 1990, the size of the population in the Delaware and Eastern Shore counties ranged from 17,842 to 441,946. The average county contained 84,161 residents, which is an increase from 45,022 in 1950. In 1990, the size of the black population ranged from a low of 4.5 percent to a high of 38.2 percent as shown in Graph 1. Between 1950 and 1990, the average county's black population declined by 3.2 percent. In 1950, the average county's black population was 22.5 percent compared to 19.3 percent in 1990. The largest decline in the black population occurred between 1970 and 1980.
According to the 1990 Census, Delaware blacks were more likely than whites to reside in the county of their birth. Nearly three-fourths of the black residents were born in their county of residence compared to a little more than half of the whites.
Below is a brief description of demographic trends for each of the twelve counties.
Kent County, Delaware
Kent County is located in central Delaware. In 1990, Kent County had the third largest population of the twelve counties examined. Between 1950 and 1970 the size of the black population declined by 2.2 percent. However, it increased by 2.7 percent between 1970 and 1990 (see Graph 2). In 1990, the black population in Kent County was three times larger than it was in 1950.
New Castle County, Delaware
New Castle County is Delaware's most northern county. It has the largest population of the 12 counties examined. With almost one half- million residents, this county was also the most urban. It experienced the greatest increase in size of the black population since 1950 as shown in Graph 2. In 1950, the size of the black population was 11.8 percent. By 1990, the black population had increased to 16.4 percent. In 1950, there were 25,739 blacks in the county. By 1990, the number had increased to 72,834.
Sussex County, Delaware
Sussex County is the southernmost county in Delaware. It is the only county in Delaware to experience a decline in the size of the black population since 1950. In 1950, the size of the black population was 17.9 percent. By 1990, the size of the black population had declined to 16.7 percent. Since 1950, the actual number of blacks in the county has grown by less than 8,000.
Caroline County, Maryland
Caroline County is the only county on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to be landlocked. Caroline County had the smallest black population of the 12 counties. In 1990, only 2,933 of its 27,035 residents were black. The black population declined from 18.9 percent in 1950 to 16.5 percent in 1990 as shown in Graph 1.
Cecil County, Maryland
Cecil County is the northernmost Maryland county on the east side of the Chesapeake. It is bounded on the north by Pennsylvania and on the east, by Delaware. Although it is the second most populated Eastern Shore county (71,347), the size of its black population is the smallest. In 1950, the black population was 7.8 percent. By 1990, the black population had declined to 4.5 percent. Since 1950, the number of blacks in Cecil County has grown by 634. Currently there are 3,240 black residents in Cecil County.
Dorchester County, Maryland
Dorchester County is the home of Harriet Tubman who, after escaping slavery to the North, returned and led groups of slaves to freedom. Dorchester County has the second largest proportional black population. The size of the black population in 1990 was 27.9 percent. Since 1970, however, the black population has decreased (see Graph 2). While the county's population has increased by 2,421 persons since 1950, the black population has increased by only 733 persons.
Kent County, Maryland
In 1990, Kent County had the smallest population (17,842) of the 12 counties. The actual number of blacks in the county declined by 27 since 1950. The black population has declined from a high of 26.1 percent in 1950 to 19.8 percent in 1990 (see Graph 2).
Queen Anne's County, Maryland
Queen Anne's County was named in honor of the British sovereign who ruled in the early 1700s. The total population in Queen Anne's County grew from 14,579 in 1950 to 33,953 in 1990. However, during this 40 year period, the actual size of the black population has declined (by 29 persons). In 1950, there were 3,868 blacks in the county. By 1990, the number of blacks in the county had dropped to 3,839. The size of the black population declined from 26.5 percent in 1950 to 11.3 percent in 1990 (see Graph 2).
Somerset County, Maryland
Somerset is one of the southernmost counties on the Eastern Shore. It has the second smallest population. In 1950, the total population in Somerset County was 20,745. Between 1950 and 1990, the county's population grew by only 2,695. The size of the black population grew from 7,326 in 1950 to 8,943 in 1990 (an increase of 1,617). Somerset County is one of the few counties on the Eastern Shore to have experienced an increase of the black population since 1950 as shown in Graph 2. In 1950, the black population was 35.3 percent. By 1990, the size of the black population had increased to 38.2 percent.
Talbot County, Maryland
Because of the flow of the county's many rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, it is believed that this county has the longest shoreline of any county in the U.S. The total population grew by 57 percent between 1950 and 1990. In 1950, there were 19,428 residents of Talbot County and by 1990, there were 30,549. The county's black population grew by only 4 percent during the same period. In 1950, there were 5,264 blacks living in the county compared to 5,502 in 1990. The size of the black population declined from 27.1 percent in 1950 to 18.0 percent in 1990 (see Graph 2). The greatest decline of the black population (3.3 percent) occurred between 1980 and 1990.
Wicomico County, Maryland:
Wicomico County is located near the center of the Eastern Shore. Salisbury, the largest city, is located in Wicomico County. The size of the black population in the county was growing at a faster rate than the population as a whole. Between 1950 and 1990, the size of the general population grew by 87 percent (from 39,641 to 74,339). The size of the black population during the same period grew by 98 percent from 8,372 to 16,573. Despite the overall growth in the number of black residents, the black population has changed only slightly from 21.1 percent in 1950 to 22.3 percent in 1990.
Worcester County, Maryland
Worcester County is the only county in Maryland to border the
Atlantic Ocean. The total population in 1990 was 35,028 compared
to 23,148 in 1950. The number of blacks in the county has grown
by less than 400 since 1950. There were 7,094 blacks residing
in the county in 1950. By 1990, the number of blacks in the county
had increased to 7,467. The percentage of the county's black population
has declined from a high of 34 percent in 1960 to a low of 21.3
percent in 1990. The largest decline in the size of the county's
black population occurred between 1970 and 1980 (a decline of
In summary, the size of the average county's population has grown by 87 percent since 1950. Growth in the size of the black population was greater than that of the white population in only four of the 12 counties examined. Three of the four counties with the largest growth in the black population had small to medium size cities. This pattern of decreasing population size suggests a trend of migration of blacks from the rural areas to the more urban areas.
Blacks in the United States have made tremendous gains educationally since the 1950s. In 1950, the average black person in the United States over the age of 25 had less than 6.9 years of school and only 13.2 percent were high school graduates. The percentage of blacks with four or more years of college was a dismal 2.2 percent. However, since the 1954 Supreme Court decision and passage of the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, blacks all over the United States have experienced dramatic increases in the level of educational attainment.
In 1990, 53.8 percent of the black population over the age of 25 in the average county were high school graduates. The percentage of black high school graduates range from a high of 67.5 percent in New Castle County, Delaware (above the national average of 63.0) to a low of 45.5 percent (below the national average) in Sussex County, Delaware. The data show the black population in counties with small-to-medium size cities had a larger percentage of high school graduates in 1990 than more rural counties, suggesting a relationship between the percentage of black high school graduates and urbanization.
Although black populations in some counties had a higher percent of high school graduates than others, the fact remains that since 1950, the percentage of black high school graduates has increased dramatically in all counties (see Graph 3). The
greatest increase in the percentage of black high school graduates between 1950 and 1990 occurred in the counties of Kent, Delaware (from 11.4 to 64.0 percent), New Castle (from 13.9 to 67.5 percent), Cecil (from 5.8 to 57.3 percent), Queen Anne's (from 2.5 to 53.8 percent), and Wicomico (from 10.8 to 60.5 percent). In these five counties, the percentage of black high school graduates increased by 50 percent or more. At the other end of the spectrum, the rate of increase in Somerset County was less than 40 percent (from 10.9 percent in 1950 to 48.0 percent in 1990).
One fact remains consistent, the percentage of black high school graduates in the twelve counties was significantly lower than the percentage of white high school graduates. The gap between black and white high school graduates was approximately 21 percent. The smallest high school graduation gap was between the black and white population in Kent, Delaware (11.1 percent), while the largest gap was between the black and white populations in Talbot County (34.5 percent).
The growth in the percentage of blacks with "some college" (1 to 3 years of college) or "college educated" in these counties has also increased significantly since 1950. In 1990, 21.2 percent of the black population had some college experience. In 1950, only 1.3 percent of the black population had "some college." By contrast, 39 percent of the white population had "some college" in 1990. This rate was 17.8 percent higher than the percentage with college experience among the black population.
In 1990, Kent and New Castle counties in Delaware had the largest
percentage of black college graduates, 11.0 and 12.1 percent respectively.
Kent and Worcester counties in Maryland had the smallest percentage
of black college graduates, 2.1 and 2.9 percent respectively.
The percentage of college educated blacks in the average county
was 6.5 percent compared to 17.7 percent for whites. Between 1950
and 1990, the average increase in the percentage of college educated
blacks rose by 4.4 percent, from 2.1 percent to 6.5 percent.
In the average Delaware and Eastern Shore county, more than half the black population was employed in one of three industries: professional or related services, manufacturing, or retail (see Chart 1).
|Percentage of Whites as County Average||Occupation||Percentage of Blacks as County Average|
|20.6||Professional and Related Services||22.7|
|2.1||Communication & Public Utilities||1.6|
There were some notable differences between black and white workers in 1990. On average, 75.4 percent of the blacks were employed by the private sector compared to 71.9 percent of the whites. Blacks also had a higher rate of employment in government jobs than whites. In the average county, 7.7 percent of the black workers were employed by local government compared to 6.4 percent of the white workers. A higher percentage of both black and white workers were employed by state government rather than local and federal government. The percentage of the black populations employed by the state was 9.5 compared to 7.2 percent for the white population. Perhaps the most significant difference in the work classification of blacks and whites was in the percentage of self-employed. In 1990, only 3.3 percent of the black population was self-employed compared to 10.2 percent of the white population.
Comparisons between blacks and whites in the industry of employment masks the employment differences between the two races. There are several indicators that shed light on labor differences between blacks and whites. One indicator is unemployment. In 1990, the average rate of black unemployment was 9.8 percent. There was double-digit unemployment for the black populations in the counties of Cecil (12.8 percent), Dorchester (10.8 percent), Queen Anne's (11.3 percent), and Somerset (16.4 percent) (see Graph 4). Talbot County had the lowest rate of black unemployment at 6.4 percent. The remaining counties had black unemployment rates between 7.9 percent and 9.4 percent.
What was truly ironic was that the black unemployment had increased noticeably since 1950. In 1950, the average rate of unemployment among black populations was 6.2 percent, even in the face of greater educational advancement. Between 1950 and 1990, the average rate of black unemployment increased by 3.6 percent. As shown in Graph 4, between 1950 and 1990 Dorchester was the only county in the sample where the actual unemployment rate among blacks declined (by 1.1 percent).
Despite a high rate of unemployment for the black population, the rate of unemployment for the white population in 1990 was relatively low at 3.3 percent. The white unemployment rate did not exceed 5 percent in any of the 12 counties examined. There were three counties that had white unemployment rates above four percent: Cecil (4.3 percent), Dorchester (4.2 percent), and Somerset (4.7 percent). Talbot County had the lowest rate of unemployment (1.6 percent) for its white population.
The counties of Kent (Delaware), New Castle, Kent (Maryland), and Queen Anne's had a white unemployment rate between 2.0 and 2.9 percent. While the counties of Sussex, Caroline, Wicomico, and Worcester had a white unemployment rate between 3.0 and 3.9 percent.
In order to assess occupational transition since 1950, each job type was divided into five groups: upper white-collar, lower white-collar, upper blue-collar, lower blue-collar, and farm/agriculture. All managerial and professional specialty occupations were categorized as upper white-collar. Lower white-collar occupations included technical, sales, and administrative support occupations. Upper blue-collar occupations included craftsman, and lower blue-collar occupations included operatives, private household, service, and laborers. Those in the farm/agriculture category included farmers and farm laborers.
In 1990, 11.5 percent of the black population was employed in an upper white-collar occupation, and 18.6 percent in lower white-collar positions. As expected, the highest percentage of the black population employed in upper white-collar positions was in New Castle County. The proportion of black workers employed in upper white-collar occupations in Kent (Delaware), Caroline, Cecil, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, and Wicomico counties ranged from 10 to 15 percent. Only 5.6 percent of the employed blacks in Kent County, Maryland were employed in upper white-collar positions. Eight to 9 percent of the black workers in Sussex, Dorchester, and Worcester Counties were employed in upper white-collar positions. The percentage of blacks employed in lower white-collar positions ranged from a high of 33.4 percent in New Castle County to a low of 12.5 percent in Dorchester County.
In the average county, nearly two-thirds of the black workers were employed in blue-collar occupations. Of those, 80.9 percent were employed in lower-blue collar occupations. The range in the percentage of blacks in upper blue-collar occupations went from a high of 16.9 percent in Kent County, Maryland to a low of 8.4 percent in Talbot County. The range for blacks employed in lower blue-collar positions went from 61.6 percent in Talbot County to 39 percent in New Castle County. In 1990, the percentage of the black workers employed in farm/agriculture occupations averaged 3.8 percent.
Between 1950 and 1990 there was a tremendous change in blacks' occupations in Delaware and the Eastern Shore. In 1950, the percent of blacks employed in upper white-collar occupations was 4.2 percent. During the 40 year period, the percentage of black workers employed in upper white-collar positions changed by 7.3 percent. The greatest change during this period was in the percentage of black workers employed in lower white-collar positions. In 1950, 1.3 percent of the black population was employed in a lower white-collar occupation. By 1990, the percentage had increased to 18.6.
The percentage of black workers employed in upper blue-collar positions increased by 9.2 percent between 1950 and 1990, while the percentage of blacks in lower blue-collar positions actually declined by 13.8 percent during this period. The largest change in the occupation of blacks was in the percentage employed in farm/agriculture. In 1950, 23.7 percent of the black population was employed in farming/agriculture. By 1990, that percentage declined to 3.8 percent.
Despite the tremendous change in occupations since 1950, a better indicator of the improvement in blacks' occupational patterns is a comparison of occupational differences between blacks and whites in 1990. In 1990, the difference between the percentage of blacks and the percentage of whites employed in upper white-collar positions was 12.3 percent (see Graph 5). Similarly, the average difference between the two populations in lower white-collar occupations was 12.6 percent. The smallest average difference between the two groups in 1990 was in the percentage of blacks and whites employed in upper blue-collar (3.7 percent difference) and farming/agriculture (1.1 percent difference).
The greatest occupational difference between the black and white populations was in the percentage of the respective populations employed in lower blue-collar occupations. While slightly more than half (53.5 percent) of the black workers were employed in lower blue-collar positions, slightly less than one-fourth (23.3) of the white population was similarly employed (30.2 percent difference).
In 1990, the national median family income for the black population was $23,550. The median family income for black populations in Delaware and the Eastern Shore was $816 higher than the national median income. The black population in five of the 12 counties had a median family income that was lower than the national median family income for blacks: Sussex County ($19,934); Caroline County ($20,037); Somerset County ($22,446); Talbot County ($19,493); and Worcester County ($20,741). Only in New Castle County did the median family income of blacks exceed $30,000 ($30,165). The median family income for the black populations in Cecil, Kent (Maryland), Queen Anne's, and Wicomico ranged from $26,719 to $27,946. The 1990 median family income for black families in Kent (Delaware), Dorchester, and Somerset counties ranged from $22,446 to $24,755.
In 1950, the median family income for black populations was $1,110. The black population in New Castle County had the highest median family income ($1,661), while the black population in Caroline County had the lowest median family income ($845). The median family income for black populations in Kent (Delaware), Dorchester, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, and Worcester counties was less than $1,110. While black populations in Sussex, Cecil, Kent (Maryland), and Wicomico counties had incomes above the median.
Although the average median family income for black families increased by more than $23,000 between 1950 and 1990, the income gap between black populations and white populations remained significant (see Graph 6). The 1990 median family income for the black population was $24,366 compared to $38,687 for the white population. Another way to think about this income gap is that black families made $0.63 for every $1.00 made by white families.
The greatest difference in median family income between black and white families was in Talbot County. In Talbot, the median family income for the black population was $19,493 compared to $42,921 for white families. The smallest gap in median family income between the black and white population was in Somerset County where the difference was $6,013.
Despite significant income differences between the black and white populations, there is one statistic that suggests progress. Since 1950, the percentage of black families with incomes at or above the national median has grown significantly. In 1950, only 3.7 percent had incomes above the national medium. By 1990, this figure had risen to 31.3 percent. In both 1950 and 1990, New Castle County had the largest percent of black families with incomes in the mid-to-upper income categories (8.0 percent in 1950 and 42.8 percent in 1990). In 1990, slightly less than 25 percent of the black families in Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot, and Worcester counties had incomes above $35,000. In Sussex, Caroline, and Wicomico, 25.1 to 30 percent were in this income group. Anywhere from 34.1 percent to 36.3 percent of the black families in Kent (Delaware), Kent (Maryland), and Queen Anne's counties had incomes at or above the national median.
Although there has been a large increase in the percentage of black families with incomes above the national median, poverty continues to be a persistent problem. In 1990, 20.6 percent of black families had an income that was below the poverty threshold of $13,359. Queen Anne's County had the lowest percentage of black families with incomes below the poverty line in 1990 (15 percent), while Dorchester and Sussex counties had the highest (25.0 percent). The percentage of black families with incomes below the poverty line in New Castle, Cecil, Kent (Maryland), and Worcester counties was less than 20 percent.
Since 1970, all 12 counties have seen a decrease in black families with incomes below the poverty line. In 1970, 28.4 percent of the black population had incomes below the poverty line. The 1990 average poverty rate was 7.8 percentage points lower than the 1970 figure. Between 1970 and 1990, some counties experienced significant decreases in the percentage of black families with incomes below the poverty line, while other counties experienced modest changes. For example, during this 20-year period, the decline in the percentage of black families impoverished in Queen Anne's, Somerset, and Worcester counties was greater than 10 percent. On the other hand, the decline during this same period was less than five percent in Kent (Delaware), Sussex, Dorchester, and Kent (Maryland).
The difference in the percentage of black families and white families living in poverty was evident as shown in Graph 7. In 1990, only 4.9 percent of the white families were living in poverty. The average difference in the percentage of black and white families impoverished was 15.9 percent. The difference in the percentage of black and white families impoverished in Sussex County was 20.2 percent. The difference was equally high in Kent County (DelawareÛ16.1 percent), Caroline County (18.3 percent), Dorchester County (19.8 percent), Talbot (19.2 percent), and Wicomico (16.7 percent). The smallest difference in the percentage of black and white families impoverished was in the counties of Kent (MarylandÛ11.4 percent) and Queen Anne's (11.1 percent).
There have been profound changes in the socioeconomic development of black populations in Delaware and the Eastern Shore since 1950. However, a question still remains whether these absolute changes have improved the quality of life for blacks. The data presented in this paper show that significant educational, income, and occupational differences continue to exist between the black and white populations in these counties.
The demographic trends suggest that a larger percentage of whites than blacks are moving into Delaware and the Eastern Shore. Most of the blacks in these counties are lifelong residents. What we were not able to ascertain in this study are the socioeconomic characteristics of the blacks who are remaining in the county relative to the those who are leaving. If the blacks who are migrating out of these counties (especially the rural counties) are better educated and more upwardly mobile than those remaining or migrating into the county, than the quality of life for the black population in general will continue to be stagnant well into the 21st century.
The data suggest that black populations in these counties may become victims of a changing labor market in the 21st century. The data also suggest that a relationship exists between black unemployment and changing occupational patterns. Since 1950, the black unemployment rate in the average county had increased by more than 3 percent. As the demand for agricultural and manufacturing workers in these counties decreased, the black unemployment rate appears to increase. The data presented confirm that in 1990, blacks were under-represented in the higher occupational status occupations where jobs are expanding and over-represented in the lower status occupations that are decreasing. There is no indication of this pattern reversing itself.
A large income gap continues to exist between blacks and whites. In 1950, blacks in Delaware earned 47 cents for every dollar earned by whites. In Maryland, in 1950, black families earned 50 cents for every dollar earned by whites. In 1990, the income differences between the races had decreased slightly to 62 cents in Delaware and 70 cents in Maryland. All counties have seen a significant increase in the percentage of black families with income above the national median (31.3 percent for the average county). However, the percentage of black families living in poverty remains around 20.6 percent.
In summary, the key findings of this study are (1) black populations in urban areas have a higher level of socioeconomic development than those in rural areas; (2) there have been absolute changes in each county's black population's socioeconomic development since 1950; and (3) white populations continue to have significantly higher levels of socioeconomic development than the black populations.
This study was a statistical inquiry of socioeconomic trends in black communities in Delaware and the Eastern Shore. It was not designed to answer the why questions. For example, this study does not answer the question of whether there has been real improvement in the quality of life for black populations since 1950. Furthermore, it does not answer the question of why education, income, and occupational differences continue to exist. Clearly, as we move toward the 21st century, the timing is right to begin to research these questions and to develop practical policy solutions.
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Last Updated: June 27, 1997
Last Updated: June 27, 1997