Five Factors Causing the ‘Decimation’ of the Black Middle Class

Alex Wong / Getty Images

The Rev. Jesse Jackson (L) hold the hands of Angela Walker (R) in Suitland, Md. after a rally against foreclosures in the hard-hit, majority-black county. Walker is recently unemployed and facing foreclosure.

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.”

What has led to such extreme losses? Here are five factors contributing to the “decimation” of the black middle class:
1. Wealth versus income

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.

2. Foreclosures
It’s been well-documented [PDF] that sub-prime mortgage lending, which contributed greatly to the foreclosure crisis, targeted minority neighborhoods, regardless of class.

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.”

  • Mike Licht

    It’s not just government jobs. Small minority businesses rely on government contracts more than majority-owned ones. The publc sector slowdown means these firms are taking more of a hit than other small businesses.

  • Flute5060

    something fishy here, i just read damn near the same article written by Patrick J. Buchanan on the site so who is the true writer here

  • Anonymous

    The prompt for this blog post was the AP story linked to at the top, written by reporter Jesse Washington. You can see that story in numerous publications, including here:

    It seems the Buchanan post you’re referring to is also based off of Washington’s story.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for offering that bit of insight to the discussion.

  • Courtney Overby

    yuk. makes me sick to my stomach, you wonder why our country is divided down the middle in political polls…

  • Exileking

    The results of our Great Society…

  • Mdottwo

    Are you people stupid or something? How about 40 million illegal aliens sucking up every kind of job and resource that use to be available to both black and white Americans. How about the millions of children of illegals sucking up every resource that should be going to Americans, among which are African Americans are citizens. Even white teenage unemployment is at an all time high.

    The treasonous Democrat party has decided to flood the US will illegals that they believe will increase the Democrat voting rolls. They have calculated, and have already decided that black and white America shall pay the price for their demand to stay in power. They are using duplicitous black politicians like Jesse Jackson Sr & Jr, Al(I’m a pimp) Sharpton, and the entire black caucus are being paid to convince black voters that hispanics are not threat, and to encourage them to make political coalition with the very people who are sucking the life of black advancement. Meanwhile, hispanic employment numbers continue to go up, as their numbers grow, and they politically displace African Americans in every arena of American life.

    Dear deceived black people, wake up. Money, jobs and advancements are finite. Your so-called “best friends” consciously took from you and gave it to foreigners in order to bolster their position of power.  Stop being a stooges! Asians, Indians, Irish, Italians, and every other ethnic group fights for the advancement of the own people. Black Americans are the only people who are told they should share the advancements with an invading horde of non-English speaking foreigners, just because they are not white!

    Africans American are giving away their heritage, their seat at the bargaining table, and all of our hard earned advancements via the manipulation of the politically deceptive white chosen “black leadership.” African Americans should become as hard nosed about
    every sliver of empowerment we can attain for our culture and our own communities. Stop all this stupid cum by ya hispanic coalition politics. They have cum by ya,  and  have taken everything you fought and died for right out of your hands, with your help!