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Why Blacks Are Poor Today

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(Revised and Edited article published in 2007)

Make no mistake about it. The rich in America is getting super richer. And correspondingly the poor is getting super poorer. Over the past 20 years the net worth of the top one percentile of American families has almost doubled from $1,071,000 in 1984 to $2,100,500 in 2005. This was the conclusion of a study about wealth disparity in the United States by the University of Michigan.

The study also showed that the poorest quarter of American families lost ground over that same period with their 2005 net worth below their 1984 net worth measured in constant 2005 dollars. In fact, the poorest 10 percent of families managed a negative net worth meaning that they incurred more liabilities than assets. And the poorest 5 percent of American households, the study said, had a negative net worth of a little more than $1,000 in 1984 as compared to nearly $9,000 in 2005. The situation is even bleaker today with Black wealth all but wiped out by the crash of the housing market and the Great Recession of 2008 -- three years after the publication of the study.

And while the study found that between 2003 and 2005 the average net worth of American families increased overall by 12 percent the average net worth of African American households fell slightly from $59,900 to $59,500. Perhaps one key indicator that spoke to the issue of wealth disparity is the participation of Americans in the stock market. Slightly over six percent of Black families owned stocks in 2003, compared with 5.3 percent in 2005--an 18 percent decline. Among white families, the percent owning stocks fell from 32 percent to 28 percent during the same period--a 12 percent drop.

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According to the Pew Research:

"The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances . Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010."

Indeed, today's wealth disparity and the rise of the super rich and novae-rich, is not accidental. While many scoff at the idea that the poor socio-economic plight of Black Americans is a by-product of slavery and Jim Crowism there are many sound reasons and explanations to support this argument. As Roderick Harrison, a researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies said: "Wealth is a measure of cumulative advantage or disadvantage. The fact that Black and Hispanic wealth is a fraction of white wealth also reflects a history of discrimination."

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And yes, I can hear the chorus of dissent and those who play ostrich and bury their heads in the sand pretending not to hear any indictment of white, privileged America. I can also hear the counter arguments about individual growth and development, ambition and embracing of opportunities that Blacks lack. But there is one simple answer to these lame counter arguments: Black achievements, limited as they are, have come by way of protracted struggles to change white attitudes, to be accepted in a society that still think of them as outcasts; by an ongoing struggle to gain access to quality education and by the fact that today in 2016 Black people are still fighting the residual legacy of Jim Crowism, racism and bigotry in ALL FACETS OF DAILY LIFE -- from the work place to the Church; from life to death.

For those who play the ostrich and pretend that this wealth disparity is a new social phenomenon, I offer this very simple explanation: white America does not want to admit the slave-foundation of its wealth, preferring to believe that this wealth and privilege has been earned through individual efforts and a commitment to succeed. Harvard social demographer Dr. Michael A. Dawson puts it this way: "The racial structures in the United States continue to this day to produce wealth disparities." Today, these structures are working feverishly to dislodge Blacks from their precarious perches in the middle class. Yet whites remain implacably opposed to engaging in even a discussion of reparations, while continuing to profit from "the inherited gift that keeps on giving."

For whites to justify their super riches, and the corresponding decline of Black fortunes, they had to come up with a rationale. Suddenly, the crime of a nation that enslaved a race of people for over 400 years, and appropriated its labor, was not to blame -- it was the result of some genetic, cultural impediment that somehow holds back Blacks from succeeding. They say that Black people could improve their status if they saved more money and stopped so-called "impulse buying."

Such hogwash has even been peddled by some Black leaders, successful Black professionals, and those in the entertainment industry who argue that Black people should start to pull themselves up by their boots strings and stop blaming white people for their plight. It has never occurred to those pushing this deeply flawed narrative that Black people are asking not for a "hand out" but a "hand up" of the same kind that helped white folks escape poverty.

But let us examine the "thrift argument" for a bit that is one of the attacks against the Black community -- Black people do not save and are not "thrifty." To begin with Black savings rates are on par with whites or, some argue, even higher. So that this is not the problem. The issue is that whites earn more than Blacks in terms of income. And Black income is gobbled up by high rents, limited health insurance, high unemployment rates, and other factors that eat away at Black income.

The upshot is that for Blacks to achieve wealth parity with whites they would have to go without "food, shelter, clothing and other expenses en masse for well over a decade to save enough to catch up," according to Dr. William "Sandy" Darity, Professor of Public Policy Studies, African and African American Studies and Economics at Duke University.

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"So I would say, there is no way that you can catch up by systemic and careful savings. If African Americans saved all of their income -- that is, if we didn't eat, pay any bills, but saved every cent of income -- we could not close the wealth gap," said the professor.

Of course, there are many theories as to why such a glaring, growing wealth disparity in the United States is today decimating the Middle Class and has all but obliterated the poor and working poor. Blaming Blacks for arriving in a world of poverty, ghettoization, marginalization and prejudice, while celebrating those who are born into privilege that was created by the exploitation of Black people over a period of centuries cannot be right. Over 400 years of appropriated Black labor by white people is a legitimate cause for reparations in much the same way that the German government has compensated Jews in the aftermath of World War II for the Nazi atrocities. White America is yet to acknowledge its Black slave past much less to even engage in a conversation of Black reparations.

Today's slave legacy is a chilling indictment of a system that is still separate and unequal. Consider the following: Black households earn less than 60 percent of median white income. At the pace of catch-up since 1968, according to a report issued by United for a Fair Economy, "it would take 581 years" to achieve income parity with whites. But wages is not wealth. For most Americans, home ownership is the major asset. Seventy-five percent of whites owned their homes before the Great Recession of 20008, while more than half of Blacks were renters. At the rate of "progress" recorded since 1970, UFE estimates "it would take 1,664 years to close the ownership gap -- a whopping 55 generations."

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)
 

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