For Blacks in the United States, facing double-digit unemployment, long-term joblessness, particularly among young adults and Black men, and mortgage foreclosures, it’s been evident for some time that the nation was in a severe economic decline. So, for many Blacks the declaration of a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is anti-climactic. The issue now is how do Black Americans who have been further impacted by this downturn climb out of this abyss and embark upon the road to economic recovery.
According to the NBER the nation has been in a recession since December 2007; so for almost a year when the Bush administration tiptoed around the nation’s deteriorating economic picture, Americans were already feeling the effects of the crisis. For some time now the average American has been aware of the depths of the decline, feeling the effects on the supermarket line, at the gas pump, in rising rents and the loss of jobs. Psychologically Americans have been there for some time now, so the formal declaration of a recession is akin to declaring dead the dead man who has been obviously dead for some time. The effect of the timing of the announcement at the beginning of the holiday shopping season is yet to be seen but it can hardly be the news that sales hungry retailers want to guide consumers purchasing decisions.
In a very practical sense, the declaration of a recession may mean very little to Black Americans. While it will certainly put hard times in context, the official designation of the decline as a recession does not change the day to day struggles confronting many Blacks. The old adage that “when America gets a cold, Blacks get pneumonia” is certainly a truism when the degree of exclusion and isolation of Blacks from economic opportunity is recognized. What has yet to be acknowledged during this economic downturn is that some Americans have been in jeopardy far longer then others and that the interventions currently on the table does little to penetrate communities and reach individuals that have been living on the edge. In a very real way, by the time help arrives, it might be too little, too late for many people.
A trip through any inner city neighborhood or outlying suburb and the devastation is evident. Whether it is sections of Newark, New Jersey, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Atlanta, it is apparent that segments of our nation, mostly Black, have been left behind. In many of these places the idea of a job, let alone a good job, is a foreign concept as whole industries have vanished. While the financial services sector leans on the federal government for help, banks deserted many of these communities long ago leaving them to the whims of predatory check cashing establishments. The same can be said for supermarkets, as large chains have, until very recently, moved out of urban communities and left residents with no choice but to pay more for poorer quality produce. Not only has living been more difficult, it’s been much more expensive for many Blacks.
The real challenge facing Black leadership is how to make certain that discussions about economic recovery strategies, including those being offered by President-elect Obama, take into account the unique circumstances of the Black poor and working class. To do so, of course, mean that there has to be an explicit recognition of racial disparities in the economy; a point easier recognized than addressed. Ironically, it may be even more difficult to confront with the election of the first Black President since Barack Obama’s victory is so heavily invested in a so-called “post-racial” narrative.
The announcement of his choice for Labor Secretary and Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will shed some light on how President-elect Obama intends to address the systemic inequities in the nation’s economy. To date, it does not appear that such considerations are part of the incoming administration’s priorities in the area of economic security.