Blacks hardest hit by Great Recession

Jesse Washington with the Associated Press provides some gruesome details:

Economists say the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Algernon Austin, director of the EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, described the wealth gap this way: “In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents.”

Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen from 9.4 to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen from 14.7 to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

“I would say the recession is not over for black folks,” Austin says. He believes more black people than ever before could fall out of the middle class, because the unemployment rate for college-educated blacks recently peaked and blacks are overrepresented in state and local government jobs that are being eliminated due to massive budget shortfalls.

Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion, says the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 1960s took decades to translate into an increase in black economic security — and that was before the recession.

“History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated” over the past few years, Wiley says. “But we’re not done writing history.”

The story also profiles Deborah Goldring and Chris Wilder, blacks who had ascended from poverty into a comfortable middle class lifestyle, but who face returning to poverty-level existence again due to long term unemployment.  I found Goldring’s childhood circumstances to be noteworthy:

Goldring was born and raised in Baltimore, and her mother was single for much of Goldring’s childhood. At 16, she dropped out of school and went to work cleaning hotel rooms.

“That’s when I first met white people. Some of them would stay a month at the hotel. They would have all their children with them,” she remembers. “I thought, one day I’d like to hang out at a hotel.”

She didn’t know any middle-class people in her all-black neighborhood. “Where we lived, everyone struggled. We just struggled a little harder,” she says. “If the lights stayed on for a whole year, if we didn’t get put out, I thought we were doing really, really well.”

At 21, pregnant with her second child, Goldring decided to get her GED. Then she went to community college, got a degree in secretarial work, and began a career.

I know I’ve been on this soap box before, but right now I feel like I need to climb on it again.  Our standard cultural narrative about segregation and discrimination places the blame squarely on whites.  But Goldring’s story, which I believe is shared among millions of blacks, reveals an embarrassing truth, which is that the black civil rights leaders and the elitist white politicians who own the Democratic party (which in turn, owns greater than 90% of America’s blacks) have done little or nothing end separatism and segregation within black communities.  In fact I would venture to say that Democratic party operatives tacitly encourage distrust and separation between blacks and whites (and between poor and middle class Americans), because it makes blacks (and the poor in general) much more likely to believe that only Democrats can protect them from rich, evil, greedy whites and the villainous Republican party.

The results of this strategy have been tragic.  Discriminatory laws that kept blacks out of mainstream educational, financial, and employment sectors have been gone for decades.  Yet many blacks rarely venture out of their own communities.  They still have a strong disdain for traditional “white” education, a broad distrust of the “white IN-justice system,” and a crippling lack of understanding regarding traditional banking and finance.  These behavior patterns were once understandable, particularly in the Jim Crow south.  But today they are simply the result of generational reinforcement, and they invariably lead to elevated school dropout rates and widespread disrespect for law enforcement and the judicial system, with a particular disregard for tickets and court orders.

Without a high school diploma, and often saddled with the burden of a series of petty misdemeanor convictions (public disorderliness, failure to pay fines, failure to appear in court, etc.) the job prospects for many young black males have generally been poor even in the best of times.  Now that the economy is in the toilet and employers are more cautious about hiring anyone who might pose even the slightest risk, employment prospects for black males are even worse.  When you add pawn brokers, payday loan shops, and street hustlers into the mix, you have the perfect formula for keeping generations of people permanently broke and dependent.  And you’d have a pretty damn tough time proving that any of this can be directly blamed on white people at large, or on the Republican party.

I’m not expecting blacks to abandon the Democrats or Barack Obama anytime soon.  But I  wish that more of them would start asking their civic and political leaders some tough questions about why poverty is so deeply entrenched in the black community, and about what they have done to promote cross-cultural growth between blacks and whites and to help blacks feel comfortable in mainstream America.  If we truly want to see black poverty and unemployment problems solved, that is where we need to start.

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