Economic Equality and Race

Since affirmative action and race have been discussed a lot recently, I thought you all might find this article interesting.

Millions of African Americans, like McKenna, achieved middle-class prosperity during the 1990s boom. The supercharged labor market drove black unemployment rates down to a very low 7% in early 2002. Employers, strapped for workers, took chances on people whom they would otherwise not have hired. The racial problem in America seemed ready to yield to the inexorable forces of economics.

But the gains for blacks turned out to be more fragile than anyone realized. Since the stock market bubble burst in March, 2000, black unemployment has soared to nearly 11%, double that of whites. And it's not just less skilled blacks who got hurt. In 2002, the number of employed black managers and professionals fell, with much of the decline coming in financial services, where McKenna used to work. Meanwhile, the number of employed white managers and professionals continued to rise, including in financial services. "Blacks have been disproportionately hit," says Harvard Business School professor David Thomas.

Taking the last 10 years as a whole, the data reveal a surprising — and distressing — fact: Despite the biggest economic boom in 30 years, black Americans closed little, if any, of the gap with whites on important measures of economic success. Average black household income gained slightly, going from 63.4% of white household income in 1991 to 64.9% in 2001, the last year available. Black men earned 73.9% of what white men earned in 2002, measured by median full-time wages and salaries. That's barely up from 73.4% a decade ago. Black female earnings actually lost a bit of ground over the same period, compared with those of white women.