- The recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality are also serving to highlight gaping economic inequality between white and Black Americans.
- These gaps have served to stagnate the financial wellbeing of Black people for generations, experts say.
- “Racism generates exclusion, discrimination, oppression, exploitation in a number of ways,” Valerie Wilson, a director at the Economic Policy Institute, told Business Insider.
- Twelve charts show racial disparities in unemployment rates, household wealth, earnings, and other economic indicators.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In recent weeks, protests against police brutality have swept American cities large and small. They come in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that killed Black people at disproportionately higher rates.
But the wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations is also shedding renewed light on the persistent inequality between whites and Blacks that has formed a cornerstone of American life for generations.
Black Americans have borne the brunt of the economic fallout of the pandemic, losing jobs at a faster pace compared to whites. Experts say these gaps have served to stagnate the finances and reduce the economic security of Black people, setting back their chances for upward mobility and, as a result, a fair shot at prosperity.
Valerie Wilson, the director of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity, and the economy, says the existence of racism erects systemic barriers within the economy that harm the financial wellbeing of Black people.
“Racism generates exclusion, discrimination, oppression, exploitation in a number of ways,” Wilson told Business Insider. “It’s not just physical violence.”
Wilson said the pandemic could further accelerate inequality between white and Black Americans.
As a group, Black Americans are significantly less likely to have wealth and savings to fall back on after a job loss. And they often lose work early on when the economy craters, which has prompted economists to characterise the issue as “first fired, last hired.”
Here are 12 charts that illustrate the alarming inequality between white and Black Americans across the economy.
The unemployment rate for Black Americans spiked at a higher rate compared to white Americans.
The chart above illustrates the percentage of unemployed workers in the labour force for whites and Blacks. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the Black unemployment rate stands at 16.8% as of May, ticking upward from the previous month and rivaling its peak during the Great Recession.
In comparison, the white unemployment rate is at 12.4%, a drop from 14.2% back in April. The trend suggests Black workers are encountering barriers trying to jump back into the workforce.
“It’s the same story,” Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Centre for American Progress, previously told Business Insider. “Going into a recession, African Americans are the first ones to lose their jobs, and then when we have a recovery, they’re the last ones to gain.”
The white unemployment rate has usually been around half the Black unemployment rate since the 1970s, the earliest period with available data, Business Insider’s Madison Hoff and Andy Kiersz reported.
Just less than half of all Black adults are currently employed in the US.
Before the onset of the pandemic, nearly 60% of Black adults were employed. But the outbreak ravaged the low-paid, close-contact service sector, and now just less than half of Black people are employed.
Many, though, already had fragile financial situations even during the record economic expansion, compounding inequality.
Data from the Economic Policy Institute indicates Black households had $US8,762 cash on hand on average – starkly lower than the $US49,529 that white households had amassed on average.
Recently, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that low-income workers have experienced the worst of the economic fallout.
“The pandemic is falling on those least able to bear its burdens. It is a great increaser of inequality,” he said. “It is low-paid workers in the service industries who are bearing the brunt of this, it is also women to an extraordinary degree.”
The household wealth of white Americans is 17x higher than that of Black Americans.
Another stark indicator of the inequality between Black and white Americans is the huge gap in household wealth as illustrated above. For Black Americans, household wealth has barely budged in three decades and is estimated to be around $US6 trillion.
Meanwhile, white households have stockpiled over $US102 trillion in wealth.
Wealth is traditionally accumulated through homeownership, stocks, high wages, or other means. But Black Americans lack easy access to these levers of prosperity and it’s a hurdle to building wealth over generations.
The per-capita income of Black Americans is much lower compared to white Americans.
Per-capita income measures the amount each person earns in a certain city or region.
Black Americans earn around $US24,700 each year, a significantly lower amount when compared to whites, who around $US42,700 annually on average. The trend illustrated above indicates that Black people consistently earn less than whites.
Some experts say that’s the product of their concentration in the service industries, but others point out that Blacks are underrepresented in the upper rungs of the nation’s corporate life – as well as many other high-paying jobs in the health and information sectors.
Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco Fed, said in an analysis that the gap in earnings couldn’t be explained by traditional economic models.
“This implies that factors that are harder to measure-such as discrimination, differences in school quality, or differences in career opportunities-are likely to be playing a role in the persistence and widening of these gaps over time,” she wrote in 2017.
Black women draw around two-thirds the average earnings of a white man.
When it comes to wages, Black women make 66% the average earnings of white men, who earn around $US55,600 annually on average.
That means that Black women make roughly $US36,700 each year on average, earning more than Hispanic women but less than both white and Asian women.
Experts say that Black women weather two different types of bias along the lines of gender and race.
“Intersectional discrimination perpetuates the racial and gender wealth gaps, limits Black women’s access to educational opportunities, and impedes their career advancement,” the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit organisation, said in an analysis.
Put another way, a Black woman has to work 226 additional days to earn the average salary of a white man.
That gender pay gap also indicates that Black women have to work an additional 226 days into the next year in order to earn the same amount as a white man.
Only a Hispanic woman has to work more than a Black woman – 307 additional days.
White women must work just over three months to break even.
In 25 states with the largest shares of Black women working full-time in the labour force, their pay ranges from 47 to 67 cents for each dollar paid to white men, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Black workers are more likely to work in high-risk jobs deemed essential during the pandemic — whether that’s in healthcare, a grocery store, or public transit.
Jobs ruled to be essential were held by a significant share of Black Americans. Much of this work can’t be done from home, which increases the health risks for essential workers throughout the pandemic.
While Black workers make up one in nine workers (11.9%) in the labour force overall, they account for one of every six frontline industry workers, or 17%, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis.
Democrats have called to provide hazard pay to essential workers such as grocery store and health employees, since many earn low wages and risk their health by simply showing up for work.
Black people have been hospitalized at nearly twice their share of the population.
The chart above illustrates that Black Americans were disproportionately hospitalized by the coronavirus at a rate twice their share of the population.
Among the factors experts have highlighted to explain the trend are underlying health conditions that put Blacks at greater risk from COVID-19 – the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus – such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma.
Many also lack access to quality medical care, which can lead to fewer visits to the doctor’s office and regular checkups that could detect coronavirus symptoms in patients.
Black adults are uninsured at double the rate of white adults.
Black people are uninsured at nearly twice the rate of whites, as shown above. Roughly 10.7% of Blacks do not have health insurance compared to 5.4% of whites.
Lacking health insurance is often connected to the decision to delay seeking healthcare barring one’s turn for the worst.
During the pandemic, experts say this threatened to create another systemic barrier that put Black Americans at greater risk from the coronavirus.
The Black homeownership rate stands at 44% while white homeownership levels are nearly 74% – a 30-percentage-point gap. The level of Black families owning a home is little changed from the 1960s.
Homeownership generally provides families with a means to accumulate wealth over many years – as long as the economy is in a healthy state.
The Great Recession prompted a dip in the number of Black homeowners. But experts say reasons for the disparity vary for other reasons as well, such as a lack of affordable housing and rising amount of debt among young buyers.
Each Black-owned home, though, is also systematically devalued by the housing market by at least $US48,000 on average, per research from the Brookings Institution, another factor that hobbles wealth accumulation.
Black people are the likeliest of any racial group in the US to have their application for a home loan rejected.
Black adults experience the highest rate of denied home loan applications at 18.4%, which contributes to lower homeownership rates. By comparison, it’s 8.8% for whites.
The data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found lenders cited debt-to-income ratio as well as credit histories when rejecting applicants.
However, the analysis also found that Black borrowers were more likely to be charged higher interest rates, or “higher priced” as defined by the government, even when they were able to secure a loan.
One in five Black Americans lives below the poverty line — or around $US26,000 for a family of four.
A large gap in median household income means that Black Americans fall into poverty at more than double the rate of whites.
The Census Bureau reported that roughly 20% of Black Americans live in poverty – or under $US26,000 for a family of four.
The significant gaps of income also help explain why it’s proven extremely difficult for many Black people to build a sizable financial cushion to weather recessions such as the one triggered by the pandemic.