State of the Black Economy: Troubling

A new Congressional report from the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) examines the economic well-being of African-Americans. The study reveals that, despite a recent significant dip in unemployment, the African-American community continues to experience economic hardships.

At 13.6 percent, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is at a near three year low, but this still leaves 2.5 million African-Americans out of work and looking. African-Americans overrepresented among the long-term unemployed, making up about 19 percent of the total unemployed population, 23 percent of those unemployed for six months or more, and 26 percent of those unemployed for 99 weeks or longer. Where the typical unemployment length is approximately five months, for African-Americans it stretches to seven.

The report notes that more education improves chances of employment, but rates of unemployment for educated African-Americans are still higher than that of the overall population. Those holding at least a bachelor’s degree experience 6.6 percent unemployment, as compared to 4.4 percent for overall. For those with only a high school diploma, the overall population has an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, but for African-Americans it stands at 14.6 percent.

While unemployment is a big concern, the decline in household income is equally startling. African-Americans had a median household income of $32,068, a decline of 3.2 percent from 2009. From 2000-2010, real median household income dropped by 14.6 percent, and since 2007, the start of the latest recession, has gone down by 10.1 percent, which represents the largest decline among all major racial and ethnic groups.

The poverty rate among African-Americans increased, going up from 24.5 percent at the beginning of the Great Recession to 27.4 percent in 2010. Among the 10.7 million African-Americans living in poverty in 2010, 4.4 million were children.

These numbers certainly would put to rest any notion of a “post-racial” society, but even this report is incomplete. It does not take interest in reporting the higher incarceration rates for African-Americans and the effect that has on employment opportunities, poverty, education, and wealth accumulation.

It is a bleak outlook, but certainly knowing the numbers helps us to know what needs to be on the agenda. For example, the report points out that the poverty rate among African-American households with families led by women is 41 percent (2010), which makes sense considering the median net worth for working age black women, 18 to 64, is $100, $5 for single black women in their “prime working years,” age 36 to 49. Also consider that black women have seen great job losses during the recession years, even in recovery. An increase in public sectors jobs that have traditionally benefited this population and adherence to equal pay legislation is a place to start, while tackling issues of debt and the housing crisis would further alleviate the suffering.

We have the numbers to reflect the problems, now it's a matter of summoning the political will to solve them.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a writer, social commentator and mental health advocate. Visit his official website or follow him on Twitter