“The Disappearing Black Middle Class” ran the headline over the Chicago Sun-Times story. And the statistics from the Economic Policy Institute were indeed sobering.
In 2007, best year of the Bush era, white households had a median net worth of $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households.
By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860. For black households, it had plummeted 83 percent to $2,170, a near wipeout.
One explanation for this surely is the wave of foreclosures on subprime mortgages, a large share of which were held by African-Americans.
But while unemployment among white men has surged in the Great Recession, among black men it has hit 16 percent, the highest level since the Department of Labor began to keep records in 1972.
Not only in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, run by Republicans, is this so, but in liberal mega-states like New York and California. There, Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown run the show, and government payrolls are also being slashed and government pensions pared back.
Why should this adversely affect black America?
Because not only are African-Americans disproportionately the beneficiaries of federal programs, from the Earned Income Tax Credit to aid for education and student loans, they are even more over-represented in the federal workforce than they are on state payrolls.
Though 10 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, African-Americans are 18 percent of U.S. government workers. They are 25 percent of the employees at Treasury and Veterans Affairs, 31 percent of the State Department, 37 percent of Department of Education employees and 38 percent of Housing and Urban Development. They are 42 percent of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., 55 percent of the employees at the Government Printing Office and 82 percent at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.
Not only are African-Americans over-represented among government employees, these jobs are the backbone of the black middle class. For federal pay and benefits have in recent years far outstripped those of the private sector.
The half-century since the Great Society was launched in the mid-1960s have been the salad days of the government sector. No segment of the population has benefited more than black America.
But with the U.S. government running its third deficit of 10 percent of gross domestic product, and Obama talking of cutting $4 trillion from future spending, those days are over. And as black America benefited immensely from the Great Society, so it is likely to hurt most as the cuts come.
Already, black voices are beginning to blame the black president whom fate has chosen to preside over the downsizing.
Incredibly, the question must be asked.
Is this Democratic administration about to go to war with its base? Is black America souring on Barack Obama?