By Ryan Velez
For all the progress Black people have seen in the last 15 years or so, it hasn’t shown in their wallets. The Chicago Tribune reports that African-Americans are actually making less than they did in 2000. This makes them the only racial group to be left behind in such a way. Latinos, whites, and Asians all saw modest gains according to the Census data that revealed this fact.
Because of this uptick in many household earnings, overall, Americans have a raised median household income, reaching $59,039 last year, the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau. Because this is the median, this number is an important indicator of the health of the middle class. However, this trend is of little comfort to African-Americans, who appear to be on the outside looking in.
A major issue behind this is the difficulty African-Americans have finding jobs, with even having an African-American sounding name making an employer less likely to hire someone, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study. In addition, the Black unemployment rate is double that of whites and even when they are employed, Black people are pulling in lower wages overall.
"Character, talent and insight are evident in individuals from all income classes. But not all individuals get an equal chance to prove their mettle," said Mary Coleman, senior vice president of Economic Mobility Pathways, a Boston-based nonprofit group. The census data shows that the poverty rate among African-Americans is over double that of whites. Lower incomes mean that many Blacks are going without the means to increase their wealth, like homeownership or stock ownership.
Williams Rodgers, chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, is one of the scholars who has studied the issue extensively. He co-wrote a report last year for the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute that found that black-white wage gaps are larger today than they were in 1979. Rodgers noted that even among blacks who attend college and work hard to grow their skills, they still earn less.
His conclusion after years of looking at the data and trends: "Wage gaps are growing primarily because of discrimination," Rodgers said. One minor plus is that blacks also had the highest growth in income last year, at 6%, but this is still not enough for them to close the wide income gap between them and other groups.