Black American Economics 101

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO (and the resulting aftermath) several weeks ago, I have seen and participated in many discussions regarding justice, racism, and Black economics. As frustrating and disheartening as some of these conversations have been, I’m very glad that I participated in them.

A very common sentiment out there among non-Black Americans is that we (Black Americans) need to take responsibility for ourselves, and stop asking for handouts and special accommodations. While the specific situation in Ferguson is more about American justice than economics, inevitably, the situation is tied back to money. Poverty is a barrier to the integration of neighborhoods. Black Americans cluster together into neighborhoods, not necessarily because we want to, but because those areas offer subsidized housing, access to public transportation as well as vendors who cater to low income people (i.e. payday loan stores, dollar stores, etc.). Oh but wait, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here. I probably need to rattle off some statistics to give a foundation of what I talk about here. In 2012, 28% of Black Americans households had incomes under the poverty level (which was $23,050 for a family of 4; or $15,130 for a family of 2 in 2012); and unemployment was at 16%. Both of these figures are more than double the amount for Americans as a whole.

There was an excellent seminar given by Tim Wise at Villanova University back in 2010. I embedded the video below, but I warn you, it is 2 hours long. Very much worth it however. One of the points that Mr. Wise makes is that there is such a thing such as “economic inertia”. Just like the physics concept, it basically states that if you start with something (money), then it is much easier to create more (money) than if you had to start from scratch. This is the position that many Black Americans find themselves in.

In addition to the racial wealth gap, Black Americans have very little support from non-Black Americans in regards to even understanding our economic issues, much less holding the desire to take action to want to help. Of course, action needs a compelling force. People don’t just do things…and more often than not, people do things if the “doing” will benefit them in some way. Given the modern-day level of racial segregation in regards to residence, it is unlikely that non-Black Americans helping Black Americans will directly or immediately impact their neighborhoods, schools or workplaces. Gone are the days when it was in vogue for young White college students to go into the inner cities and other heavily populated Black areas to make a positive change in those communities. Sure, there are programs that provide these opportunities; but the pay is so low and the benefits so few, it’s not like you have young people tripping over themselves to take advantage of them (remember what I said about people actions being done for some benefit?).

So before we can even begin to talk about fostering a desire to help Black Americans succeed and find financial security, and grow the desire to do something about it, we need to know the following key points:

  1. 28% of Black Americans have household incomes under the poverty level.
  2. The average Black family has a median net worth of $11,000; while the average White family has a median net worth of $134,000
  3. 1 in 3 Black American men are expected to be incarcerated at some point in their lifetime.
  4. 60% of Black children are growing up in single parent households. A “living wage” for a single parent with two children is about $17.50 per hour; more than twice the amount of the current minimum wage.
  5. Black Americans carry a debt load of about 35% (compared to their assets) in contrast to White Americans who carry a debt load of about 15%. Most of this is a result of lower average incomes, lower rate of home ownership, and less equity in businesses.
  6. The median income of Black households is $32,000; meaning that 1/2 of Black households earn more than this amount, and 1/2 earn less. This is 61.7% of the median income for Whites; and only a minor improvement over the same figure calculated back in 1967…when it was 60.9%.

Yes, Black Americans definitely have to take some responsibility and have some accountability for their economic status. No one is denying that. What (non-Black) people are denying are the facts about their role in the economic empowerment of Black people. While you may not have any Black people in your neighborhood, in your workplace, or perhaps you don’t even have any Black friends; they do not live in an economic bubble. Black Americans make up 13% of America’s population, and by turning a blind eye to their continued impoverishment, you are letting a nasty wound fester that will eventually infect the rest of the country as well.