US Still Struggles with Its History of Racial Economic Problems

15 June 2020

The death of George Floyd as he was put under arrest by four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota has fueled anger over race issues in the United States.

Reactions like the protests this month in many American cities seem to have taken place before. In 1967, conflict between African Americans and police in Detroit, Michigan and other U.S. cities resulted in deadly and destructive violence.

And in 1992, people in African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles, California took to the streets in anger because of a police incident. On April 29, a jury found four Los Angeles police officers not guilty of beating Rodney King, a black man. Video of the beating had appeared soon after the arrest. In the days of violence that followed, more than 60 people died and the National Guard was brought in to return order.

In this April 30, 1992 file photo, a fire burns out of control at the corner of 67th Street and West Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, four white police officers were declared innocent in the beating of black motorist.
In this April 30, 1992 file photo, a fire burns out of control at the corner of 67th Street and West Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, four white police officers were declared innocent in the beating of black motorist.

Some experts say that economic problems have joined with other problems like the spread of the new coronavirus to harm African Americans.

"We've got a perfect storm," said Cecelia Rouse, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University. She told the Associated Press that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is creating economic harm for African Americans.

Health experts suggest that African Americans are more likely than whites to die of COVID-19. They are more likely to work in lower-paying service jobs. Many of these jobs in restaurants, movie theaters and other service businesses have been lost because of the measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"People are mad..." said Monica Lewis-Patrick, president of the community group We the People of Detroit. She said the U.S. cannot call itself "the wealthiest nation in the world and still have these major inequities and disparities...based on race.''

After the civil unrest of the mid-1960s, the United States Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. It was meant to end housing discrimination. Two years ago, Margery Turner of the Urban Institute researched the effects of the act on its 50th anniversary. She wrote that African Americans and other minorities continue to face discrimination although the clearest examples of it have decreased.

Turner noted the separation of communities by race continues. She said the average white American lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white and eight percent African American. The average black American lives in a neighborhood that is 35 percent white and 45 percent black.

The current economic recession resulting from business closures tied to the coronavirus is very troubling for African Americans. That is because they had appeared to be making gains after the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

The unemployment rate for black Americans reached a record low level last year. Black wealth, severely limited by the financial crisis of the late 2000s, had recently grown at a higher rate than white wealth.

Some politicians and other leaders want to reduce the economic difference between black and white Americans. They are calling for policies they say will help African Americans. These include paid sick leave, a higher federal minimum wage, and possibly additional direct payments like those the U.S. government recently sent to most taxpayers.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that from 1968 to 2018, the average yearly earnings for black households rose 37 percent from around $30,000 to around $41,000 . Earnings for white households grew 31 percent, from around $51,000 to just under $67,000. But, black households still earn less than white households.

The income divide remains wide although African Americans have increased the level of education they receive. The Economic Policy Institute reports the number of black Americans that have completed high school hit 92 percent in 2018, and 23 percent finished college.

However, black Americans are still more than two times as likely as whites to be poor. The official poverty rate does not include the effects of government programs such as food assistance and Medicaid.

In addition, the unemployment rate for African Americans has been around two times higher than the rate for whites.

In February, researchers at the Brookings Institution reported other reasons for the wealth divide. They noted African Americans inherit far less money than whites. In addition, those who become top earners are more than whites to lose the wealth they have gained. The study said, African Americans also are more likely to provide financial help to friends and family.

I'm Pete Musto.

Paul Wiseman reported on this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

inequitiesn. things that are unfair

disparities –n. noticeable and often unfair differences between people or things

wealth –n. the value of all the property, possessions, and money that someone or something has

minimum wage –n. an amount of money that is the least amount of money per hour that workers must be paid according to the law

inherit v. to receive money or property from someone when that person dies