Just as the edifices of finance capital began to slip into the abyss, a report shows that the Black American economy went into reverse eight years ago. The study by the Economic Policy Institute is titled "Reversal of Fortune," and tracks the roller coaster ride from the late Nineties, when Blacks registered real progress in employment, housing and reduction of poverty, to the steady slide backwards that began around the year 2001.
Viewed in hindsight, the late Nineties were among the most promising economic years on record for African Americans. Black family income grew at the quickest pace since the 1950s and 60s, when jobs were abundant and unions far more powerful. Although Black unemployment remained far higher than white joblessness even in the robust economy of the 90s, employment rates did improve, and the African American poverty rate declined significantly, as did crime in Black communities.
All that came to a halt in 2001. African American families lost $404 per year in income, a one percent drop, between 2000 and 2007. The worst off were single, male-headed households, which saw incomes decline over nine percent during George Bush’s first seven years in the White House. Poverty among African Americans, which had declined 8.5 percent in the years between 1989 and 2000, rose 2.8 percent from 2000 to 2007. Black home ownership, which was just shy of 50 percent in 2004, was down to around 47 percent by 2007 – before the subprime lending crisis made itself generally felt.
"The worst off were single, male-headed households, which saw incomes decline over nine percent during George Bush’s first seven years in the White House."
Even as government and business announced that the economy was recovering from the downturn of the early to mid 2000s, Blacks were experiencing a "jobless recovery" – which, for a people with very little wealth to lean on, is no recovery at all.
The authors of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study conclude that "Black America needs a strategy for Black full employment." Their reasoning is that, since Blacks are consistently left behind in the employment arena, the best way to ensure a generally healthy employment environment is to work towards bringing Black unemployment below five percent.
The EPI’s approach, although eminently sensible, would require government measures specifically targeted at joblessness in Black areas, rather than measuring the nation’s economic health on statistics that "mask" pervasive racial disparities in society. Unfortunately, the presidential candidate that overwhelming numbers of African Americans support, Barack Obama, opposes race-specific remedies for America’s economic problems, insisting that class-based measures will serve everybody. Of course, the numbers show that America doesn’t work that way.
The EPI study reveals that Black Americans face special obstacles, even in boom-times like the late 90s. Now the nation – and possibly the world – peers into the gathering darkness. With Blacks already facing loss of precious housing wealth hovering around $100 billion dollars, the prospect of mass unemployment is terrifying, indeed.
The 90s were not Heaven by any stretch of the imagination, but the future is shaping up to be Hell.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford.