Reversal of Fortune: The Economic Downturn for Blacks Under George Bush

Are you better off now than you were before George W. Bush took office? No. Heck no.

In an earlier post, I pointed to statistics which showed how the American economy deteriorated during the George Bush administration. But that looked at the overall economy. It didn’t focus on how the economic condition of African Americans was affected during the Bush era.

That focus is provided in a briefing paper from the Economic Policy Institute titled Reversal of Fortune: Economic gains of 1990s overturned for African Americans from 2000-07. The paper details how poorly African Americans have fared since Bush took control of the economy from Bill Clinton:

On all major economic indicators—income, wages, employment, and poverty—African Americans were worse off in 2007 than they were in 2000. Although the American economy has grown signifi cantly since 2000, African Americans have not shared in America’s prosperity. The current economic downturn and the subprime mortgage crisis bode ill for the immediate future for African Americans.

Overall, the economic condition of African Americans has worsened since 2000. Wage growth for the median black worker has stagnated, incomes and employment have declined, and poverty has increased. This Briefing Paper shows:

• African American median family income declined by $404 or 1% between 2000 and 2007. Th is is the first decline in black median family income in a business cycle of this length since World War II. Single, African American, maleheaded families saw the largest percentage decline—9.1%—in median family income.

• Worker productivity grew 19.2% between 2000 and 2007, but wage growth for American workers generally and African American workers specifically has stagnated. For black workers 25 to 54 years old, the median black weekly wage fell 0.6% from 2000 to 2007.

• The African American unemployment rate increased by 0.7 percentage points between 2000 and 2007, while the employment rate shows a 2.4 percentage-point decline, or three times the number not working indicated by the change in the unemployment rate.

• The black home ownership rate, after increasing to 49.1% in 2004, dropped to 47.2% in 2007. Because the foreclosures from the housing crisis have continued into 2008 and will likely continue into 2009, the African American home ownership rate is also likely to decline into 2009.

• The tight labor market of the late 1990s led to the largest decline in African American poverty since the 1960s. From 1989 to 2000, the black family poverty rate fell by 8.5 percentage points. In contrast, from 2000 to 2007, the African American family poverty rate increased 2.8 percentage points.

• Crime and criminal justice policies are increasingly entangled with the economic outcomes of African Americans and particularly of black men. If one adjusts the employment rate of African American men by counting men in prison as non-working, the already low African American male employment rate drops by about 3 percentage points.

This paper was released in mid-September, and pre-dated the economic crisis that led to the so-called Wall Street bail-out bill. Many experts are saying that economic conditions will probably worsen in the next few months.

There’s an old saying that “when white America catches a cold, Black American catches pneumonia.” If white America goes into a recession… will black America go into a depression? We’ll see…


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