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Census shows income gap outside of and within Black community

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/12/2012, 2:07 p.m.

A troubling trend is occurring in African-American urban communities. According to the U.S. Census, the income gap between Black and white communities in urban areas increased due to middle- and upper middle-class Blacks moving away, leaving poor Blacks on their own.

The Census Bureau says that affluent Blacks are leaving traditionally industrial and more populated cities for the South and the comfort of the suburbs, changing the definition of rich and poor in cities. It has driven Blacks who still live in cities farther apart from city whites economically, and has increased the income disparities within the Black community as well.

According to figures, the average white person earned almost 1.7 times more than a Black person in 2010-the widest ratio since the 1990s. Moreover, in cities like Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Milwaukee, the census saw increases in inequality due to middle-class minorities leaving for greener pastures.

The Census Bureau stated that the share of Black households ranking among those earning less than $15,000 increased from 20 to 26 percent this past decade. For African-Americans making $200,000 or more a year, the percentages stayed at just over 1 percent. Census data also showed that Blacks were more likely to live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates (40 percent or more).

According to the Population Reference Bureau, in 2010, close to 19 percent of men between the ages 25 and 34 were "idle" (not working and not attending school), up 5 percentage points from 2007. Of that 19 percent, around 31 percent were young Black adults.

Part of the decline in work could be the result of the loss of public sector jobs by Blacks. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, where nearly a quarter of its employees are Black, is dealing with severe budget problems. Currently, they are throwing around the idea of doing away with 220,000 positions just to stay above water. Traditionally, public sector jobs have offered stable work for many Black Americans and have helped them achieve the middle-class lifestyle that's been associated with the American dream.

The situation has become dire for the Black community. This past summer, the Black unemployment rate was at its highest (16.7 percent) since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was president. The role of the public sector in the unemployment issue is quite clear.

A report by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California-Berkeley entitled, "Black Workers and the Public Sector," showed that the public sector is the single most important source of employment for African-Americans. The report also indicated that during 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all Black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-Black workers.

Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African-Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector, the report said. Needless to say, for the health and stability of the greater Black community, any discussion of public sector jobs must be a consideration.