Sun 13 Sep, 2009
Tags: Dedrick Muhammad, Racial inequality, Unemployment
Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad have an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times in which they make the case, which I have explored previously, that the recession has been especially hard on black families.
In their essay, entitled “The Recession’s Racial Divide,” the authors are scrupulously fair towards those whites who, they argue, are engaged in “racial resentment, loosely disguised as a populist revolt” against what they perceive as unfair bias towards blacks and a socialist president hell-bent on implementing stealth reparations for slavery. As they say:
When you’re going down, as the white middle class has been doing for several years now, it’s all too easy to imagine that it’s because someone else is climbing up over your back.
In fact, however, black Americans have not gained any unfair advantage in recent decades, nor are they at risk of doing so now. Far from it. As Ehrenreich and Muhammad point out, “blacks are the ones who are taking the brunt of the recession.”
In the years leading up to the recession, black America was already struggling with the rising inequality which has characterized our economy throughout this decade. In those years of economic growth and rising wealth, black incomes actually declined and black unemployment rose. Blacks were unemployed at twice the rate of whites, and a third of black children were living below the poverty line.
After the recession hit, however, black Americans were particularly likely to suffer. This was inevitable, even without any further discrimination. Because of generations of discrimination, for instance, black families have, on average, far less in the way of savings and assets to fall back on (less than 10% of the wealth of the average white family).
Furthermore, as I wrote about in the spring, black workers have been hit disproportionately hard by rising unemployment. The black unemployment rate is now 15.1 percent, while the rate for whites is considered high at 8.9 percent. Again, this is not necessarily the result of racial prejudice in employment decisions: the black middle and professional classes tend to be newer in their positions, and are often the first to be laid off when cutbacks are necessary.
The subprime mortgage debacle also disproportionately affected black families. This isn’t because blacks were taking out more than their share of unaffordable mortgages. Instead, it’s a reflection of the fact that black borrowers were far more likely to be offered subprime mortgages than whites: even a high income levels, blacks were nearly twice as likely to be given subprime loans, even if they qualified for prime lending. The authors also argue that black families were deliberately targeted for many of these subprime mortgages by unscrupulous lenders eager to take advantage of communities which had long been under-served white banking institutions.
Dedrick is a specialist on the U.S. racial gap who co-authors the annual State of the Dream report put out by United for a Fair Economy, which analyzes the socioeconomic gulf separating white Americans from black, Latino, and other historically disadvantaged groups. Dedrick works at the Institute for Policy Studies, and has been an invaluable ally for us at Traces of the Trade.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a social commentator and the author of numerous books, including This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation, about the nation’s pervasive inequality, and, most recently, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, exploring the negative consequences of the nation’s habitual optimism.