MUST READ! The American Prospect, October 2008 Issue on Race and the Economy

I want to give my readers a Buy recommendation for the October 2008 issue of American Prospect magazine. It contains a Special Report insert titled The Color of Opportunity – Narrowing Racial Divides and Expanding Prosperity for All that is required reading.

The American Prospect is a progressive magazine that covers political, economic, social, and cultutral issues. Thanks to the support of several foundations, the Prospect has prepared a detailed review of the economic state of Americans in general and African Americans in particular. Thankfully, they’ve made the Special Report available on-line.


This graphic shows several of the articles in American Prospect’s Special Report on race and economics.

The tone of the Special Report is set by the lead piece “The Economic Crisis in Black and White,” which states:

Today, the U.S. economy is facing one of its greatest challenges in decades. The recent seven-year economic expansion netted a record for producing the fewest jobs since Herbert Hoover was president. The median income for American households has not kept up with inflation. So as the economy slows, households are in a weaker position than they were when the expansion began in 2001.

Yet, while the economy has failed American workers — generating more inequality than growth, more debt than income — discussing solutions to America’s economic woes rekindles America’s racial cleavage. White voters are asked to weigh issues such as trade and its effects on wages and jobs, or the complications of providing health care and its effects on take-home pay and retirement benefits, or the rising costs of college tuitions on their children’s futures.

But black voters are too often given a lecture on presumed black pathologies — a lack of interest in education and the skills needed to compete, a weak sense of family, and high criminal proclivities.

One could easily assume that white America was doing fine, and if black America would only get its act together, black Americans would be doing just as well. You might almost believe that the hundreds of thousands of jobs America has lost in manufacturing in the last seven years were only lost by lazy, poorly educated African Americans too busy having babies to get the skills to keep their jobs. You might almost believe that gas and food prices were rising only for black Americans, preventing only their wages from keeping up with the rising costs of living.

This bifurcation in the discussion of America’s economic woes blocks identification of the true similarities and differences among workers of different races. The usual frame leads African Americans to experience white views as insensitive to their plight — while for whites it dangerously masks the broader rise in economic inequality.

Whites too easily see the black economic condition as the result of failing lifestyles, not a failing economy. Blacks too easily put the blame on either their own shortcomings or on discrimination.

Properly understood, what has befallen the black community should be viewed as water coming into the steerage section of an ocean liner — special problems for those getting wet but a clear sign the entire ship is in trouble. The current debate on black pathologies is delaying a call for getting out the lifeboats and ensuring a fair distribution of those lifeboats — and building a more sea-worthy ship for the next voyage. So far, the result has been, as with the Titanic, lifeboats for the rich in first class.

The articles in the Special Report are well written, informative, and enlightening. This is must reading, especially given the increasingly held view among experts that the American economy is going to get worse before it gets better.

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