Blacks Still Suffering in Spite of Economic Recovery

Wealth Gap Black Families
Black families lost nearly half their wealth during the housing crisis

AFRICANGLOBE – Although the overall unemployment rate still exceeds 7 percent, and the official Black unemployment rate is greater than 13 percent, there are some who insist that there is a robust economic recovery in progress.

Indeed, we were declared “post recession” in 2011 based on the definition of recovery as GDP growth for three quarters in a row.

The perception of whether the recovery is stumbling or soaring depends on your own financial status. White and Asian households headed by those age 40-61 and have a two or four year degree recovered all but 2 percent of their wealth by 2012.

Similarly situated African-American and Hispanic households had just 58.7 percent of the wealth they had at the beginning of the recession.

Wealth recovery depends on race, pre-recession portfolio (which speaks to the racial wealth gap), home value, stocks (the wealthier are more likely to hold stocks than others), savings (lower for African-Americans), and debt (higher for African-Americans).

Wealth Accumulation

Wealth accumulation is important. Even moderate amounts of wealth increase the likelihood that young people in these households are more likely to go to college, more likely to experience upward economic mobility, and more likely, in the next generation, to attain homeownership.

Our nation lost more than $16 trillion in wealth during the downturn.

Much of it has been recovered, but too many families, especially African-American families, have yet to recover. Homeownership among African-Americans, especially younger African-Americans have declined.

Unemployment also has something to do with the wealth gap, because those who are unemployed frequently draw down on their home value, increase credit card debt, or use other means to simply survive. African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as Whites are, and there are no existing public policies to both increase employment generally, and to target employment programs to those most in need.

Targeting Blacks

President Obama can’t create “Black” employment programs, but targeting employment possibilities to inner city resident is an implicit target to Black America. Targeting to recent college grads that are unemployed and have significant debt would also implicitly favor African-Americans (since virtually all African-American students graduate with some debt, but nearly 50 percent of Whites graduate without debt).

Wealth gaps were significant even before the recession, with African-Americans less likely to own homes, hold stock, or have significant savings. Not only were African-Americans more likely to have debt, but also African-American debt was more likely to come from high-interest credit card debt, while others had lower-interest bank debt.

Can the gap between African-American wealth and that of others ever be closed? It’s unlikely given that unequal wealth is a function of history. In other words, income is a snapshot of what is happening today, but wealth is the history of you and your family.

The next time you hear about economic recovery ask “whose recovery has this been?” Some have escaped from the Great Recession unscathed.

Others, especially some African-Americans, the young, and those who remain unemployed, have yet to experience economic recovery.


Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and author.


How to Create Your Own Economic Recovery