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Black workers are still not sharing in the bounty of nation-wide employment gains

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Embedded in the nation’s increasingly favorable unemployment statistics — the country is currently in the midst of a record decline in the number of out-of-work Americans — is the persistent fact that black workers aren’t sharing equitably in this rampant job growth.

In September, the most recent period when figures are available, approximately 134,000 jobs were created and the national unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s fantastic news for the nation at large.

But if you drill down into the bureau’s figures, you’ll find that black workers are not celebrating on par with their white colleagues. At 6 percent, the black unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white workers, at 3.3 percent. By way of comparison, Latino workers posted a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, and the Asian rate was nearly equal to whites’ at 3.5 percent.

(October’s unemployment figures are scheduled to be released on Friday. Analysts expect a continuation of these trends with little-to-no narrowing of the gap between white and black employment.)

In a recently released state-by-state review of unemployment rates by race and ethnicity for the third quarter of 2018, Janelle Jones, an analyst at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, found that 12 states have a black unemployment rate that is at least twice as large as the white unemployment rate. What’s more, in each of the 21 states and the District of Columbia, for which figures were available, the black unemployment rate was higher in each of them than it was for white Americans.

Jones’ findings further underscore the fact that even as the nation climbs back from its pre-recession unemployment level, the bounty isn’t filling the pocketbooks of black Americans. For instance, she found the nation’s highest black unemployment rate was in the District of Columbia at 12.4 percent, producing a 6.2-to-1 disparity with white workers in the Nation’s Capitol. Worse, the District has the dubious distinction of having the highest black unemployment rate during the previous eight quarters — this despite the fact that Washington, DC and its surroundings are the third-richest metropolitan area in the country and home to the most affluent population on the East Coast.

Other high unemployment states for black workers included Illinois (9.3 percent), Louisiana (8.5 percent), Alabama (7.1 percent, and New York (7 percent). The lowest unemployment rate for black Americans were Massachusetts and Virginia, both with (3.8 percent).

Among Latino workers, the highest state unemployment rate is in Nebraska (5.9 percent), followed by Connecticut (5.7 percent), Arizona (5.6 percent), Pennsylvania (5.6 percent), and Washington (5.6 percent).

In two states — Colorado and Georgia — the Hispanic unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate. In Colorado, Latino workers’ 2.3 percent unemployment rate was lower than the 2.9 percent rate for white workers, and in Georgia, Latino unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, compared to 3 percent for white workers.

“As the economy continues to recover, all racial and ethnic groups are making employment gains,” Jones said in a statement released with her report earlier this week. “But policymakers should make sure that the recovery reaches everyone before taking their foot off the gas.”

Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox agreed, writing recently that “[b]lack Americans really have been making employment gains in recent years – and they’ll probably keep making them as long as this expansion continues. Which is one more reason to root for it to keep going.”

As Fox described it the falling unemployment rate is, on the whole, a positive development for all Americans, especially black workers in their “prime working” ages between 25 and 54. At present, he said the gap between black and white workers in that realm is at an “all-time low” (noting that such figures can only be compared since 1994 when the federal government began reporting “prime working age” economic figures).

But Andre Perry, a Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow, cautioned against celebrating too soon. In a recent U.S. News & World Report interview he argued it’s way too early to cheer the economy’s recovery so long as a racial gap exists in employment.

“We need to start talking about prosperity and not whether people have a job. We need to start looking more deeply at equality,” said Perry, who focuses his research on majority-black populated cities in the U.S. “Because when black folks are doing well, that really means America is doing well.”

In other words, Perry says the celebratory narrative on the economy is almost exclusively the story of impressive gains for white workers and tolerance for black workers who continually lag behind.

“Right now, when we’re looking at full employment, what we’re really saying is this is a state of white employment,” Perry said. “We’re willing to base our monetary policy upon that stage and not really cater to the black unemployment rate that is still wanting. You can be at full employment in one population and be in a recession in another. . . . We need to start recognizing these disparities, or we’re going to become more comfortable with them.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sam Fulwood is a columnist for ThinkProgress who analyzes the influence of national politics and domestic policies on communities of color across the United States.

Racial Inequality Is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

America’s middle class is under assault. And as our country becomes more diverse, our racial wealth gap means it’s also becoming poorer.

Since 1983, national median wealth has declined by 20 percent, falling from $73,000 to $64,000 in 2013. And U.S. homeownership has been in a steady decline since 2005.

While we often hear about the struggles of the white working class, a driving force behind this trend is an accelerating decline in black and Latino household wealth.

Over those three decades, the wealth of median black and Latino households decreased by 75 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while median white household wealth actually rose a little. As of 2013, median whites had $116,800 in wealth — compared to just $2,000 for Latinos and $1,700 for blacks.

This wealth decline is a threat to the viability of the American middle class and the nation’s overall economic health. Families with more wealth can cover emergencies without going into debt and take advantage of economic opportunity, such as buying a home, saving for college, or starting a business.

A Growing Gap

We looked at the growing racial wealth gap in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now.

We found that if these appalling trends continue, median black household wealth will hit zeroby 2053, even while median white wealth continues to climb. Latino net worth will hit zero two decades later, according to our projections.

It’s in everyone’s interest to reverse these trends. Growing racial wealth inequality is bringing down median American middle class wealth, and with it shrinking the middle class — especially as Americans of color make up an increasing share of the U.S. population.

The causes of this racial wealth divide have little to do with individual behavior. Instead, they’re the result of a range of systemic factors and policies.

These include past discriminatory housing policies that continue to fuel an enormous racial divide in homeownership rates, as well as an “upside down” tax system that helps the wealthiest households get wealthier while providing the lowest income families with almost nothing.

The American middle class was created by government policy, investment, and the hard work of its citizenry. Today Americans are working as hard as ever, but government policy is failing to invest in a sustainable and growing middle class.

To Do Better, Together

To do better, Congress must redirect subsidies to the already wealthy and invest in opportunities for poorer families to save and build wealth.

For example, people can currently write off part of their mortgage interest payments on their taxes. But this only benefits you if you already own a home — an opportunity long denied to millions of black and Latino families — and benefits you even more if you own an expensive home. It helps the already rich, at the expense of the poor.

Congress should reform that deduction and other tax expenditures to focus on those excluded from opportunity, not the already have-a-lots.

Other actions include protecting families from the wealth stripping practices common in many low-income communities, like “contract for deed” scams that can leave renters homeless even after they’ve fronted money for expensive repairs to their homes. That means strengthening institutions like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The nation has experienced 30 years of middle class decline. If we don’t want this to be a permanent trend, then government must respond with the boldness and ingenuity that expanded the middle class after World War Two — but this time with a racially inclusive frame to reflect our 21st century population.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad directs the Racial Wealth Divide Project at Prosperity Now. Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits Inequality.org. They’re co-authors of the new report, The Road to Zero Wealth.

Supreme Court Should Approve Policies that Will Provide Much-needed Relief to Immigrant Working Families

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Richard L. TrumkaWe applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the DAPA and expanded DACA case, which will have profound consequences for our immigrant brothers and sisters who live and work every day under a cloud of fear, as well as for the state of racial and economic justice in our country. We are confident the court will reverse the decision of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and allow the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies to go into effect, affording millions of people the opportunity to apply for work authorization and temporary protection from deportation. We encourage the Department of Homeland Security to take all steps necessary to ensure these much-needed policies can be implemented as soon as possible after the court issues its decision this summer.

At a time when working people feel increasingly disposable and deportable, when corporations are allowed to profit from the mass imprisonment of people of color, when our government is rounding up refugee families from their beds at night, and when we are confronting at so many levels the racial bias deeply entrenched in our laws and their enforcement, the outcome of this case will have a significant impact on the direction our nation takes moving forward.

At heart, the question the Supreme Court will consider is whether our immigration enforcement regime will be allowed to take modest steps to begin to protect and empower hardworking people, or whether it will continue to serve as a tool to exclude and oppress.

Much is at stake in this case, but working people do not need a court ruling to tell them what is just. In the face of criminalization, exploitation and base attempts to sow division, we will continue to work in every community in the country to build what we believe is the only true antidote: solidarity.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Trumka is the president of AFL-CIO, the largest organization of labor unions in the country.  He is an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.  Trumka heads the labor movement’s efforts to create an economy based broadly on shared prosperity and to hold government and employers accountable to working families.

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