Report: No Progress for African Americans on Homeownership, Unemployment and Incarceration in 50 Years

Tracy Jan, Washington Post, February 26, 2018

Convened to examine the causes of civil unrest in black communities, the presidential commission issued a 1968 report with a stark conclusion: America was moving toward two societies, “one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,” there has been no progress in how African Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.

In some cases, African Americans are worse off today than they were before the civil rights movement culminated in laws barring housing and voter discrimination, as well as racial segregation.

“We have not seen progress because we still have not addressed the issue of racial inequality in this country,” said John Schmitt, an economist and vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, citing the racial wealth gap and continuing racial discrimination in the labor and housing markets. “One of the key issues is the disadvantages so many African Americans face, right from the very beginning as children.”

The wealth gap between white and black Americans has more than tripled in the past 50 years, according to Federal Reserve data. The typical black family had zero wealth in 1968. Today the median net worth of white families — $171,000 — is 10 times that of black families.

The wealth black families have accumulated is negligible when it comes to the amount of money needed to meet basic needs during retirement, pay for children’s college education, put a down payment on a house, or cope with a job loss or medical crisis, Schmitt said.

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Yet the hourly wage of a typical black worker grew by just 0.6 percent a year since 1968. African Americans make 82.5 cents of every dollar earned by the typical white worker, the report said. And the typical black household earns 61.6 percent of the annual income of white households, with black college graduates continuing to make less than white college graduates.

Despite the poverty rate dropping from more than a third of black households in 1968 to about a fifth of black households, African Americans are 2½ times as likely to be in poverty than whites.

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Housing and schools have become resegregated, “locking too many African Americans into slums and their children into inferior schools.” White supremacists have become emboldened. And there is too much excessive use of force — often deadly — by police, especially against African Americans, notes the book, co-edited by Fred Harris, a former U.S. senator and sole surviving member of the Kerner Commission.

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