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The Unreported Economic Depression in Black America

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This is a classic Depression for Black America, and few appear to be paying attention. Just look at the numbers.

This economic situation qualifies as a Depression for Black America

The definition of an economic depression is a severe economic downturn, one that typically last several years. The last depression the country as a whole experienced was in 1929. It lasted 10 years. It was marked by 25 percent unemployment, wages that declined 42 percent. And a total economic output that fell from $103 to $55 billion.

The current recession the nation is much worse for Black America. Of black men between the ages of 20 and 34, only 60 percent are currently employed. That’s down 10 points from 2001. Unemployment for African Americans is estimated to reach a 25-year high this year -- nationally black unemployment is expected to reach 17.2 percent (compared to about 9 percent for the nation overall) with five states exceeding 20 percent. The real estate crisis that precipitated that recession has stripped black families of more wealth than any other single even in U.S. history.

This may have been a recession for the nation as a whole. But this is a classic depression for Black America, and few appear to be paying attention.

Key facts to consider:

  • As of December 2009, 16.2% of African Americans and 12.9% of Latinos were unemployed, compared to 9% of whites
  • From December 2008 to December 2009, the unemployment rate among Blacks grew by 4.3% and among Latinos by 3.7%, as compared to 2.4% for whites
  • In several states, Michigan and Ohio for example, African-American unemployment is expected to exceed 20% in 2010
  • Blacks earn 62 cents for every dollar of white income, and Latinos earn 68 cents for every dollar of white income
  • Wages and salaries lost from 2008 to 2012 will total $142 billion for African-Americans and $138 billion for Latinos, out of a total $1 trillion loss for the entire nation
  • Blacks and Latinos are 2.9 and 2.7 times as likely, respectively, to live in poverty as whites
  • Black and Latino children are 3.3 and 2.9 times as likely, respectively, to live in poverty than white children
  • In five Midwestern and Plains states — Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma — the unemployment for Blacks was at least 3 times that of whites
  • In another eight a — Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Mississippi, and New Jersey — the unemployment rate for Blacks was at least 2.5 times higher than that of whites
  • Among Latinos, the widest disparities were in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota
  • Workers laid off in an economic downturn can take up to 20 years to replace their lost earnings

Yet, the loss of black wealth, black unemployment, suffering black families remain unseen and unheard during the recession. CNN had done a few reports on the State of Black America. But they have been broad strokes at a very complicated and historically layered problem. The only real job creation efforts so far has been the stimulus, which did not direct hardly any money to the sectors that most immediately impact high unemployment numbers among blacks, such as manufacturing.

The unemployment extension proposals now stalled in Congress has been used as political fodder. The vast majority of reforms passed with the Health Care Act, which could be useful for displaced workers, will not go into effect for several years. Black America has literally been stranded in this depression as policy makers pander to the far right, the tea party, and the banks.

Is it the illusion of post-racial America that prevents political leaders from addressing the unemployment and poverty gripping Black America? Is it simply another example of the most marginalized populations being the easiest to ignore? What I do know is that it will take generations for the black community to fully recover from this economic depression. Just think about the historical obstacles black family face in terms of accessing the economic engines of this country, accessing education, health care, etc. All these issues have been drastically exasperated by the current economic depression.

Policy Initiatives that could provide better outcomes for Black America

  • Target job creation to high unemployment areas. It doesn’t have to be called a Black Agenda. But unemployment should be treated in the same way that a doctor approaches a triage. The victim’s suffering the most should receive attention first.
  • Let the Bush tax cuts expire. Use those funds for increased job training for dislocated workers.
  • Provide incentives for creating jobs domestically and provide immediate penalties for outsourcing.
  • Expand the mortgage modification program and make it more accessible to working-class families.
  • Strengthen financial reform to provide protection against predatory practices. Provide increased oversight into the payday loan, check-cashing and rent-to-own industries as well as other companies that exploit poorer families.

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