When it comes to the conversation about racial inequality and poverty, many people try to take solace in the idea that things are better now than they were in the past, even if things weren’t that great. However, recent data from the Washington Post shows that since 2000, overall, African-Americans are moving financially backwards, and are the only racial group to do so.
The median income for an African American household was $39,490 in 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week. It was $41,363 in 2000. (Both figures are in 2016 dollars, so they have been adjusted for inflation). If you looked at things overall, you’d think they were going well. The median income that year for all Americans was $59,039 that year, the highest level recorded to date.
Part of it stems from earning power, where the deck is stacked against Black people. Even having a name that sounds African-American can hurt people’s chances of getting jobs. This is one example, but overall, the Black unemployment rate is nearly double the white unemployment rate, and those that are working get lower wages than whites and Asians. “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.
When you compare incomes between groups, it’s not even close. African Americans have the lowest earnings of any racial group by far. While median household income for African Americans was just over $39,000 last year, it was over $47,000 for Hispanics, over $65,000 for whites and over $81,000 for Asian American households. This also makes it more difficult for black people to use conventional means of growing wealth, like getting stock or owning homes.
Many have tried to figure out what the root cause of this growing disparity is, including Williams Rodgers, chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Last year, he co-authored a report showing that black-white wage gaps are larger today than they were in 1979. Education and actively working to improve skills and networks weren’t enough to fix the gap. His conclusion after years of looking at the data and trends? “Wage gaps are growing primarily because of discrimination,” said Rodgers.