Black and white wealth gap, not the employment numbers, is the the real problem.
It’s true what President Donald Trump said in May. The 5.9 percent unemployment rate was indeed the lowest number for African Americans ever recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
What the president and his surrogates don’t like to discuss is how it dropped a full 8.7 percentage points, from 16.5 in April 2011 to 7.8 points before Trump’s wife had the chance to rearrange the furniture in the White House after the 2017 inauguration.
Additionally, you’re not going to hear them say that since May, it has jumped back to 6.3. This momentary dip, coinciding with Kanye West’s buffoonish characterization of slavery as a “choice” last spring, served as the impetus to the Republican Party’s #WalkAway hashtag, which props up self-loathing African-American conservative commentators such as Candace Owens and Larry Elder who have spent the summer urging African Americans to reject the “plantation” that they accuse the Democratic Party of being.
Many financial folks say that Trump simply received the economic baton from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who finished off his second term flying off the final turn like the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, and handed it to the reality television star turned president. All Trump has had to do thus far is not sabotage things.
Obama, or course, didn’t have that luxury. While Trump was ginning up racial animus by declaring the president with the beautifully rhythmic name couldn’t possibly be a citizen of the United States, Obama had committed himself to the country and was fastidiously going about the business of repairing an America that, following the economic meltdown of 2007-08, was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month.
In typical fashion, Trump called the numbers under Obama “fake news.” They didn’t become legitimate until all of a sudden he was president and they were being reported by the same agencies and by the same outlets.
What is fake, however, is the impact of these numbers on the lives of African Americans. While employment numbers may fluctuate and at times appear favorable, the numbers that really count — the ones that determine who is impoverished and who is not, who will be able to educate their children and who will not, and who will be able to pass something along of value to their loved ones and who will not — continue to overwhelmingly fall in favor of white people, so much so that the entire country should be — but isn’t — up in arms over this.
• A shared report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Institute for Policy Studies earlier this year found that it would take African-American households on average 228 years for their household wealth to reach that of white families.
• The Federal Reserve last year reported that the median white household net worth was 10 times that of its African-American counterpart, even when factoring in equal education levels.
• Homeownership, one of the single-most important mechanisms for wealth building among the middle class, remains for African Americans at 40 percent, the same as it was 50 years ago and trails white homeownership by some 30 percentage points.
It should be disconcerting to all that no one — Democrat, Republican or Independent — wants to have the conversation about the persistence of the Black-white wealth gap, which is triple what it was 50 years ago, despite significant improvements in African Americans attaining higher education and advanced degrees.
But here we are — with African Americans making just 83.5 cents on the dollar compared to white counterparts — and a group of presumably educated African Americans like Owens, Elder and the King’s English-butchering Minstrel Act known as Diamond and Silk have the unmitigated gall to suggest to the almost 40 million African Americans that a vote for Donald Trump will begin fixing this painfully persistent problem.
Perhaps they don’t know that 228 years ago America was just 14 years old.
Another case in point. Black women 63 cents. White women 79 cents. The gap persists despite the fact that Black women participate in the work force at a significantly higher rate than white women.
Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission convened to identify the causes of the riots that left city’s such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland burning. The report pinpointed “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing.” The report also said America was moving toward two societies, “one Black, one white — separate and unequal.”
I ask you: What’s changed?
John N. Mitchell has worked as a journalist for more than a quarter century. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Tweet at @freejohnmitchel.