… Throughout these years, liberals argued that tax cuts for the rich caused record federal deficits, but conservatives presented statistics refuting this claim. Although many conservatives were unhappy about the budget deficits, the problem was government spending rather than tax cuts. Contrary to liberal rhetoric, the Reagan government collected more tax revenues each year “than in any year of any previous administration in history.”
… Reagan’s tax reforms actually shifted the weight of federal income tax to the rich; in 1979, the wealthiest 5 percent of families paid 37.6 percent of all federal income taxes, but in 1987 the top 5 percent paid 43 percent. Conservative Catholic Michael Novak argued that religious intellectuals overestimated “both the numbers and the income of the rich.” The total adjusted gross income of Americans who earned more than $1 million in the year 1982 was $17.6 billion. When government taxes took about half of this sum, there was “enough to keep the federal government going for about three days.” Put another way, confiscation of all the money earned by millionaires and billionaires paid the government’s bills for about six days. Class warfare rhetoric might win politicians some political capital, but the revenue gained by raising taxes on the rich would be far short of what the government needed.
Conservatives pointed to positive signs in minority communities, including economic gains made by middle-class African Americans. For the eighties, census information showed a ten percent rise in the proportion of blacks employed in professional and middle-class jobs. Liberals argued that Reaganomics caused a growing income disparity between African Americans and whites, but official reports from the Census Bureau provided no evidence of a growing disparity. The rate of white-black earnings kept in pace; in both 1977 and 1987 African Americans earned 57 percent as much as whites. Where there was a growing gap was between the poor and the middle class, but this was due more to the shift in marriage patterns, according to Michael Novak. By the 1980s, “male householders were far more scarce in the lowest quintile, and female householders not participating in the labor force became more predominant.” Young, black, single, unemployed mothers “are hardly affected by economic growth, since they participate in the labor economy hardly at all.”
Although the economic plight of poor blacks was real and the adjustment to a new job market was very difficult for some, the total annual personal income of African Americans rose from $191 billion in 1980 to $259 billion in 1988 (calculated in 1988 dollars). The improved income figures of African American married-coupled families were encouraging. Black columnist Courtland Milloy wrote that the economic improvement of American blacks was “one of the nation’s greatest success stories.”
Some Americans attempted to celebrate the economic advances of African Americans made in the Reagan era. Well-known for his television advertisements for Jello and Coca-Cola, Bill Cosby began his successful television series The Cosby Show in 1985. Various liberals condemned the show for idealizing African-American life, but Cosby articulated a spirited defense: “Does it mean only white people have a lock on living together in a home where the father is a doctor and the mother is a lawyer and the children are constantly being told to study by their parents?” The most popular show from 1985 through 1990, The Cosby Show presented a positive portrayal of the black family experience to 63 million weekly viewers….
Excerpt from Eric R. Crouse, The Cross and Reaganomics: Conservative Christians Defending Ronald Reagan (Lexington Books, 2013).