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Barack Obama

A Suggestion for Today’s ‘Beer Summit’

4:15 PM EDT on July 30, 2009

It's become the pint heard 'round the world, thanks to the fascinated mainstream media -- and in a few hours, President Obama will finally sit down for a beer with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley, the Cambridge police officer who arrested Gates in his own home two weeks ago.

Gates and Crowley are both bringing family members, so there may be little time to talk policy. But if Obama and the two men had an opening to delve into race relations, this week's black-white mobility report from Pew might be a good place to start.

Residents of Cambridge, which elected the nation's first black lesbian mayor earlier this year, have expressed dismay at the intense racial scrutiny directed at their wealthy college town since Gates' arrest by Crowley.

Cambridge's local population is 11.5 percent black and 65 percent white, and though children comprise the majority of locals living in poverty, the share of that burden born by young African-Americans is lower than in nearby Boston, where about one-quarter of the population is black.

Only Cambridge natives such as Gates and Crowley can attest whether their town hosts the stark extremes of economic mobility that Pew observes in its report. But the researchers' conclusions are noteworthy indeed:

Over the course of childhood, two out of three black children (66 percent) born from 1985 through 2000 were raised in neighborhoods with at least a 20 percent poverty rate, compared to just 6 percent of white children.

The good news, however, is that increasing the quality of life and decreasing poverty in a neighborhood has distinct effects on the future of its children. In neighborhoods where poverty dropped by 10 percentage points between 1980 and 1990, Pew found a marked increase in the family income and individual earnings of black residents.

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