The recession from 2007 to 2009 has hit nearly all sectors and communities in the American economy, but minorities, and particularly African Americans, may have been affected the most. Jesse Washington’s recent Associated Press story about how the recession reversed many of the economic gains that took the black community many years to attain contains some grim statistics: in 2009, the average black household had only 2 cents for every dollar of wealth held by the average white household, and in April 2010, black male unemployment hit its highest point since the government began tracking it in 1972.
“History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated,” Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion, tells Washington. “But we’re not done writing history.”
The wealth gap between whites and blacks in the same socioeconomic classes had quadrupled in the decade preceding the recession [PDF]. Wealth is how much a person owns, minus any debt. So even if African Americans had made strides to hold jobs with incomes that took them into the middle and upper classes, as a whole, their accumulated wealth wasn’t on par with their white counterparts.
For instance, in 2007, about 63 percent of black Americans’ net worth was tied to their housing, compared to 38.5 percent for white Americans . A loss of income, depreciated home values or losing a home to foreclosure — all of those have a greater power to knock you out of your socioeconomic class if you don’t have some accumulated wealth to rely upon.
Locally, the area that was hit the hardest by the foreclosure crisis was Prince George’s County, the country’s wealthiest majority black county. In Prince George’s County, half of the county’s sales have been foreclosure-based this year.
3. Loss of government jobs
The public sector has cut the most jobs out of any industry this year, and black people hold a disproportionately high number of government jobs [PDF]. For years, African Americans have often relied upon government jobs as alternatives to the private sector. They presented a way to circumvent discrimination that prevented them from private sector jobs.
4. College-educated and unemployed
For many Americans, a college degree translates to better job opportunities and increased job security. And although that’s diminished during the recession, college-educated African Americans are more likely to be unemployed than college-educated white Americans. According to the AP story:
In 2007, unemployment for college-educated whites was 1.8 percent; for college-educated blacks it was 2.7 percent. Now, the college-educated unemployment rate is 3.9 percent for whites and 7 percent for blacks.
The situation is even worse for recent college grads who don’t have years’ of experience in the workforce to help them: in 2010, the jobless rate for black college graduates under 25 was 19 percent, compared to 8.4 percent for white men.
5. The ‘old boys network’ and discrimination
It’s only been a few decades since anti-discrimination laws have been passed and thoroughly enforced, but it took even longer for the effects to trickle through the black community, Wiley tells Washington. That means fewer generations’ of minorities have been able to climb corporate ladders.
Chris Wilder, a 43-year-old black unemployed journalist who fell victim to losses in the media industry, describes the situation to Washington this way:
“It’s definitely harder for black people to get jobs… With the economy as bad as it is, people are hiring nephews and family friends and friends of friends. It’s hard for black people to break that cycle. We don’t own or even run the big companies.”