Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama offered his State of the Union Address to the citizens of America. There is an irony in that statement, because the word “union” is derived from the Latin word, “unio” meaning “oneness.” Yet, African-Americans experience a separate reality from that of the mainstream America discussed by the president on Jan. 27.
A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau in April, 2009 demonstrated continued inequities in pay between Whites, who make up the majority of the U.S. population (69 percent) and Blacks (12.3 percent). According to the report, in 2007 Blacks with a four-year bachelor’s degree earned only 78 percent of the salary for comparably educated Whites. This gap widened from 2005, when Blacks earned 83 percent of the average salary of Whites in 2005.
“It’s clear education alone is not the full reason for the pay gaps,” said Sarah Crissey, a housing and economic statistician for the Census Bureau. In 2008, federal job discrimination complaints, with allegations of race discrimination made up more than a third of the 95,000 claims.
But disparities continue among the unemployed as well. “The lesson of most economic downturns is minorities are the last hired, first fired. They lose jobs more quickly, and they will be the last to recover,” said Roderick Harrison, a demographer at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that studies minority issues.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, when the recession began in 2007, the national unemployment rate for the nation was 4.6 percent, however, for Blacks it was 8.3 percent, almost twice the national rate. In December 2009, the national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent, however, the unemployment rate for Blacks was 15.6 percent.
Young Black workers reached record high rates of joblessness. The jobless rate for Black men, 16 – 24-years-old, reached 34.5 percent, three times the national rate. Women in the same group reached 26.5 percent during the same period as compared to the national average of 15.4 percent.
The consequences of job loss and joblessness are far reaching and African-Americans faced significant job loss and joblessness last year. Blacks were already suffering from high foreclosure rates due to sub-prime lending, however, the rise in unemployment pushed many over the edge.
According to the 2007 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data reported by the U.S. Federal Reserve, Blacks were almost three times as likely to receive high interest sub-prime loans than Whites in 2006. Economists blame sub-prime lending and job loss for high foreclosure rates, especially among Blacks, who had the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. In fact, The Boston Federal Reserves Bank reports that Blacks are three times more likely to experience foreclosure than Whites.
However, the state of Blacks in America has consistently been both more disparate and more desperate than that of mainstream America. According to reports, it is not that Blacks are barred from enjoying the privileges commonly known to mainstream America, but that Blacks have consistently had to overcome more barriers than other races.
According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, in 2008, the national poverty rate was 13.2 percent. This is in contrast to the state of Blacks, 24.7 percent of which are living in poverty, as opposed to just 8.6 percent of all Whites.
Job loss, poverty and foreclosures all lead to homelessness. The office of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2007 Blacks make up 45 percent of the sheltered homeless population, as compared to Whites at 41.1 percent.
Another circumstance leading to job loss, poverty and homelessness is poor health. Although the President and Democrats are working desperately to pass a national health-care plan, there is no guarantee such a plan will dramatically improve conditions for Blacks. According to reports by Harvard/Brown researchers, while Blacks and Whites may enjoy the same level of health coverage, Blacks continue to receive inferior health care than Whites.
“Even when everyone is insured and in the same plan, we still find racial disparities,” says Dr. Amal Trivedi, lead study author and assistant professor in the department of community health at Brown Medical School. Dr. Ross Isaacs, associate professor of medicine at the Center on Health Disparities at the University of Virginia warns, “These disparities … should not be underestimated.” The implications for Blacks without quality health care, which includes prevention and quality treatment, are far reaching.
“For Blacks in the United States, health disparities can mean earlier deaths, decreased quality of life, loss of economic opportunities, and perceptions of injustice. For society, these disparities translate into less than optimal productivity, higher health-care costs, and social inequity,” the CDC states in their report, Health Disparities Experienced by African Americans.
It would also appears the eyes of Lady Justice may be blindfolded, but not blind in terms of race. The ACLU reports that people of color have accounted for 43 percent of total executions since 1976 and 55 percent of those currently awaiting execution. Additionally, despite the fact that Whites only make up about half of all murder victims, 80 percent of all capital cases of all Capital cases involve White victims. However, according to the U. S. Department of Justice, the murder of a Black person was less likely to result in capital punishment. This was true even for homicides committed under otherwise similar circumstances, and where defendants had similar criminal histories.
Racial disparities also continue in the area of education. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2006 Civil Rights Data Collection, African American students represented only 7.9 percent of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, only 9.15 percent of students in Gifted and Talented program and 13.4 percent of graduating seniors in U.S. public schools. This represents only 82 percent of African Americans, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.Perhaps the low graduation rate can be attributed, to some degree, to inequitable treatment at school. According to the 2006 CRDC, African American students represented 17.13 percent of enrolled students, but comprised 35.67 percent of students receiving corporal punishment, 37.40 percent of students who received out of school suspensions, 37.86 percent of students who were expelled.
Disparities continue into higher education, with 41.7 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds Whites enrolling in college as compared to 31.8 percent of all African Americans. As of 2007, only 19 percent of had a Bachelor’s degree.
In 2010, Blacks continue to experience separate realities from much of the nation. Although the days of slavery and Jim Crow are long gone, their effects remain. With mechanisms such as affirmative action no longer in place to level the playing field, some question if Blacks will ever enjoy, “a country as good as its promise.”