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The State of Black America: Progress Made, But Far To Go

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In 2010, the median household income for African Americans was 30 percent less than the median income of white households 30 years ago. African-American household income fell more than 2.5 times farther than white household income during the Great Recession, 7.7 percent versus 2.9 percent. Home ownership rates also fell for African Americans at roughly double the rates of whites, essentially wiping out the gains in home ownership since 2000. Today, more than a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line, compared to about 10 percent of white people.

A newly released report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies also underscores the severity of economic conditions among African Americans. That report focused on black unemployment rates in 25 states with large African-American populations starting when the economy was at its peak in 2006. “In 2006, prior to the recession, the unemployment rate in the black community was already at recession levels in every one of the 25 states we studied, from 8.3% in Virginia to 19.2% in Michigan, and in 20 of the 25 states the unemployment rate for African Americans was above 10%,” the report said. “In 2011, more than two years after the economic recovery began, unemployment rates for African Americans across most age, gender and education categories remained significantly higher than their pre-recession rates.”

In fact, the jobless rate for African Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 in these states was 29.5 percent in 2011, two years after the recession had supposedly ended.

“If the national unemployment rate was anywhere near these percentages, we’d be in crisis emergency mode,” said Ralph B. Everett, president of the Joint Center, during a discussion of the report last week.

Instead, the “crisis” that has the attention of the Washington political class is the federal debt, and even the Obama administration has now caught some of the fever. This fixation dictates that the federal government not be able to devote the resources necessary to address this crisis. While members of the “Fix the Debt” crowd – overwhelmingly white and disengaged from the day-to-day struggles of African-American communities – pleads concern about the debt that will be handed down to their children, no one speaks of the consequences that the continuing economic depression experienced by millions of African-American households will have on the next generation.

Coming at the same time President Obama’s budget, the State of Black America 2013 report raises the question of whether President Obama has done enough to address the economic realities African Americans are facing. It’s a fair question, given that the overwhelming majority of African-American voters backed Obama and the Democrats in 2012. For its part, the administration touts its economic efforts on behalf of African-Americans, which Rev. Al Sharpton summed up in what should be forever known as the “ham sandwich” approach to Black economic concerns.

At that White House meeting, which lasted more than two hours on Feb. 21, the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, drew laughter from Obama and his fellow activists when he found a folksy way to defend the president from charges he didn’t talk enough in his first term about black issues:

“I had a friend when we were in school who told me he was going on a kosher diet. He converted his religion. We went to eat, and he ordered a ham sandwich. I said, ‘You can’t eat that.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘That is pork.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. Pork is pork chops or pork loin. I said, ‘No, you don’t have to call it pork for it to be pork. It is still pork.’ ” The lesson, Sharpton said, is simple: “Some things he’s done, it may not have been called ‘black.’ But it affected us. It was still pork.”