The black middle class has grown dramatically in America over the last couple of decades.
Non-discrimination laws and political clout in cities meant that blacks were hired in large numbers for solid government jobs at the state and local level. Laws requiring minority participation in government construction projects boosted the black private sector.
I’m generalizing here, of course, but it’s also the case that many members of the black middle class are relatively new to it — maybe the family’s status goes back a generation, maybe two. That means that many lack the inherited wealth that many members of the white middle class have — or will eventually have.
The recession, the slow recovery, and cuts in local and state government spending have thus taken a terrible toll on the black middle class.
I have followed these trends to some degree, although I’ve never written about them, and they have come up in the national media previously. But they have received particular attention in the last few days, in part because of new Census data.
From NPR and All Things Considered, Black Atlantans Struggle To Stay In The Middle Class:
The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that among recent borrowers, nearly 8 percent of both African-Americans and Latinos have lost their homes to foreclosure. (The rate for whites is 4.5 percent.) And losing a home is often a consequence of losing a job — as of Dec. 2, African-American unemployment is 15.5 percent, more than twice that of whites.
Nancy Flake Johnson, president of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, says the bad economy has been devastating for all blacks, including college graduates.
“We’ve lost a third of the black middle class,” she says, citing a recent Urban League study.
From last month’s As Public Sector Sheds Jobs, Blacks Are Hit Hardest in the NYT:
Though the recession and continuing economic downturn have been devastating to the American middle class as a whole, the two and a half years since the declared end of the recession have been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks in terms of layoffs and unemployment, according to economists and recent government data. About one in five black workers have public-sector jobs, and African-American workers are one-third more likely than white ones to be employed in the public sector. [. . .]
Blacks have relied on government jobs in large numbers since at least Reconstruction, when the United States Postal Service hired freed slaves. The relationship continued through a century during which racial discrimination barred blacks from many private-sector jobs, and carried over into the 1960s when government was vastly expanded to provide more services, like bus lines to new suburbs, additional public hospitals and schools, and more.
But during the past year, while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs, state and local governments have shed at least 142,000 positions, according to the Labor Department. Those losses are in addition to 200,000 public-sector jobs lost in 2010 and more than 500,000 since the start of the recession.
The Associated Press’ Census: Widening income gap as blacks leave cities tackles a different problem, as demographic shifts compound economic and cultural issues. The piece looks at the long-term trend of blacks moving back to the South — in some cases generations after their families left — and to suburbs:
Affluent black Americans who are leaving industrial cities for the suburbs and the South are shifting traditional lines between rich and poor, according to new census data. Their migration is widening the income gap between whites and the inner-city blacks who remain behind, while making blacks less monolithic as a group and subject to greater income disparities. [. . .]
The typical white person last year earned income roughly 1.7 times higher than that of blacks, the widest ratio since the 1990s. Census figures released Thursday show that cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Milwaukee in particular saw increases in inequality, hurt by an exodus of middle-class minorities while lower-skilled blacks stayed in the cities.
Low-income blacks also slipped further behind. The share of black households ranking among the poorest poor — those earning less than $15,000 — climbed from 20 percent to 26 percent over the past decade; other race and ethnic groups posted smaller increases. At the same time, African-Americans making $200,000 or more a year were unchanged from 2000 at about 1.1 percent, even after a deep recession.