Overcoming Black economic stagnation

By REPS. G. K. BUTTERFIELD (D-N.C.), CAROLYN MALONEY (D-N.Y.) and CHARLES RANGEL (D-N.Y.) | 10/29/2015, 6:04 p.m.
The hostile response we have seen recently to protests of police brutality and the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police ...
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The hostile response we have seen recently to protests of police brutality and the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police in New York City, Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and elsewhere is all too familiar to those of us who lived through the late 1960s.

Back then, cities all across the country erupted in protest against rank social and economic injustice. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission in 1967 to investigate the conditions that led to widespread rioting and repeated acts of arson. The commission’s report was released the next year and concluded, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.”

Since then, the situation has improved significantly around the country, but much work still remains. For far too many, particularly in the African-American community, too little has changed and too much is still the same. We have much to do to make the American Dream a reality for all.

Today, we update a report by the Democratic members of the Joint Economic Committee, in cooperation with the Congressional Black Caucus, examining the economic challenges facing African-Americans. We found that African-Americans in New York City face extraordinary economic obstacles, sometimes even exceeding those typically faced by African-Americans nationwide.

Here are the numbers:

• In New York City, African-American unemployment is 12 percent, whereas for whites, the rate is 5.5 percent. The national unemployment rate for African-Americans is 9.2 percent, double the 4.4 percent rate for whites.

• The median income for African-American households ($41,000) in New York City is approximately half of the median income for white households. Nationally, the median income of African-American households ($35,400) is approximately 60 percent of the median income of white households ($60,300).

• In New York City, whites are more than twice as likely as African-Americans to have a four-year college degree. Nationally, among 25 to 29 year olds, whites are almost twice as likely as African-Americans the same age to have a four-year degree.

This racial disparity—in New York City and the nation as a whole—means we remain a society in which Black and white are “separate and unequal.”

The Joint Economic Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus will explore these persistent inequities at a CBC-JEC forum Friday at the Harlem Hospital Center. Academic experts, public officials and community leaders will come together to discuss the underlying causes of economic disparity between the races and how we might overcome them.

Inequality this extreme and this persistent is corrosive and destructive. It hurts our children and cripples our families. It consigns millions of able and talented Americans to a life at the margins, weakening the bonds of civil society and the democracy that unites us.

The recent turmoil in our country should be seen in this larger context. The reactions to the violent deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and too many others to count have not happened in a vacuum.

A careful study of economic data can help us make greater sense of these complex issues. Unbiased facts, laid out in black and white, can inspire us to action. We will move one step closer to achieving a more just society when everyone understands, when everyone knows that a Black American is still twice as likely to be unemployed as a white American or that a typical white household has 13 times more wealth than a typical Black household.

There are things we can do now to help provide opportunity to Americans of all backgrounds. We should increase the federal minimum wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides poorer families greater economic incentive to work hard and earn more. We should expand early childhood education, restore cuts to Pell Grants and strengthen the role of community colleges. We also should get serious about passing some of the numerous bipartisan bills that address problems in our criminal justice system.

First and foremost, however, let us first acknowledge the truth revealed by the data: America is still not a land of equal opportunity for all. Then let us strive, at long, long last, to take the American Dream off hold for millions and make it a reality for everyone.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, is the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat, is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dean of the New York State Congressional Delegation.