MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Last week, the Census Bureau released an alarming report. Although the mainstream corporate media generally highlighted results that showed median income for American families has risen at a good clip the past year, the gap between the median incomes for white people and people of color remains at a staggering level. According to ThinkProgress,
New Census Bureau data shows an increasingly optimistic picture for white Americans -- but far less so for Americans of color, many of whom still face stark income disparities.
Released Tuesday, the numbers appear to show good news across the board in several key areas. Median household income in the United States in 2016 was $59,039 -- a more than three percent rise from 2015 and the highest ever recorded....
But the figures also show a grim reality. While white families now earn an average income of around $65,041, that picture is far less rosy for other racial demographics. Hispanic families earn around $47,675 -- considerably lower than the over-arching average, $59,039. Worse off are Black families, who earn a median of $39,490, more than $25,000 less than their white counterparts.
The Census Bureau told ThinkProgress that no reason could be given for the gaps, and Census Bureau commentary could only be offered on the figures and trends. But experts and economists highlighted the data on social media, pointing to the numbers as a disconcerting sign that the figures reinforce income inequality in a damning way, one that also cuts along gendered lines. Janelle Jones, an economic analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, noted on Twitter that “earnings actually DECREASED for black women and Latinas” while they rose for white women (women of all races are still out-earned significantly by their male counterparts).
It's worth taking a moment to reflect on the fact that not only is there a persistent income gap between whites and people of color, but that women of color have actually seen a decline in income. That's a startling inequitable fact.
On a related note, I wrote last week about how another measure of economic growth is indicating that our society is heading toward an anti-Black economic apartheid when it comes to family wealth. Wealth is defined here as the value of total assets owned by a family. In fact, the data collected and analyzed in a report also released last week by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive Washington think tank, and Prosperity Now, a think tank that focuses on research and solutions for a more equal availability of wealth, comes to a startling conclusion: by 2053 the median Black family measure of wealth will approach zero.
Chuck Collins, a co-author of the report and director of IPS's Program on Inequality, attributed the decline in Black family wealth to many reasons, including predatory lending, a decline in housing value and ownership, contract buying, payday loans and the economic need to live off debt, among other factors. Collins told BuzzFlash at Truthout:
These overall trends of economic inequality supercharge the racial divide. Many households of people of color are one step away from bankruptcy. Evaluating net worth is important because it provides a fuller picture about the financial well-being of families.
Collins noted the profound effect of multi-generational racism in the disparity, in which Black families have not been able to build up equity through housing ownership, savings, investments and general financial capacity.
The Chicago Tribune offered a blunt assessment of one of the key findings from the Census Bureau report:
African Americans were worse off financially in 2016 than they were in 2000.
The median income for an African American household was $39,490 last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last week. It was $41,363 in 2000. (Both figures are in 2016 dollars, so they have been adjusted for inflation)....
Black Americans have struggled for years to move up the economic ladder. They have a harder time finding jobs. Merely having an "African American sounding name" makes an employer less likely to hire someone, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found.
The black unemployment rate is nearly double the white unemployment rate. It's been that way since the Labor Department began keeping track of unemployment by race in the early 1970s.
The Tribune also reflected on how lower incomes affect family wealth:
Lower incomes make it harder to get by, let alone get ahead. African Americans are much less likely than whites to own homes or invest in the stock market, in part because low wages leave them with limited extra income to save up for a down payment.
In other words, Black Americans, as a group, are experiencing a double whammy. Historical economic discrimination has resulted in low incomes, which also plays a factor in declining family assets.
It's a pressing injustice that needs to be resolved with transformational economic and social change.