A View from the Black Depression

In the decade leading up to the Great Recession, Wanda Nolan grew accustomed to steady progress.

From an entry-level job as a fill-in bank teller, she forged a career as a commercial banking assistant, earning enough to become a homeowner. She finished college and then got an MBA....

But in September 2008, everything changed.

A bank human resources officer called her into a private conference room. “All I heard was, ‘Your position has been eliminated,’” ...

More than two years later, Nolan is still looking for a job and feeling increasingly anxious about a future that once felt assured."


“Over the course of the recession, the unemployment disparity between college educated blacks and whites actually widened,” says economist Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. “If black workers who are the most prepared to compete and work in the new economy can’t find jobs, that’s something that we as a country have to take seriously.”

[Read more]


A Tale of Two D.C.s

The data from the Depressed States [PDF] analysis shows starkly different experiences for white and black D.C. The unemployment rates for whites only show a slight indication of declining economic conditions over the Great Recession. The D.C. white unemployment rate peaked at 5.2% in 2009, significantly below the white rate nationally. The black rate has risen steadily from 2008 and peaked at nearly 19% in the end of 2010, higher than the black rate nationally.

In D.C., many people were surprised that blacks and whites had different assessments of the recently departed mayor Adrian Fenty. But if the only adage is true that "It's the Economy Stupid" then we should not be surprised.

Black D.C. is experiencing the full and brutal force of the Great Recession and probably will not recover for another two years. White D.C. experienced a very mild economic downturn that ended last year.


The Continuing Jobs Deficit

“The biggest deficit we face is the jobs deficit.”
--Congressman Xavier Becerra

"Recent reports of incremental employment gains should not overshadow the continuing depth of the jobs crisis in America—a crisis whose severity for some groups rivals the magnitude of the Great Depression. For example, unemployment among African Americans in Michigan and Hispanics in Rhode Island has exceeded 20% since 2009. In 17 other states, the African American unemployment rate was at least 15% for most or all of 2010 . . . ." [Read more]

"Young blacks and Hispanics are suffering disproportionately. The unemployment rate for black high school graduates under age 25 and not enrolled in school was 31.8%, compared with 22.8% for Hispanic high school graduates and 20.3% for white high school graduates. The unemployment rate for young black college graduates was 19.0%, compared with 13.8% for young Hispanic graduates and 8.4% for young white graduates." [Read more]


Crack vs. OxyContin

From the New York Times: "And on Tuesday, the Obama administration announced plans to fight prescription drug addiction nationally, noting that it was now killing more people than crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s combined."

"Among 18-to-25 year olds, white youth are two-and-a-half times as likely as black youth to abuse prescription drugs. The abuse of drugs like OxyContin kill more people than crack cocaine and yet, as measured by the intensity of our policing and prosecution, our criminal justice system views crack cocaine as the greater harm to society." [Read more about "White Privilege and Illicit Drugs"]


Tax Evasion: The Real Costs

Tax evasion will cost the U.S. government $305 billion in 2010 and has cost $3 trillion over the past decade. It is a major contributor to budget deficits and the accumulation of national debt since 2001. Tax evasion also costs state treasuries billions of dollars. Every tax filer will pay an extra $2,200 in 2010 to make up for the funds lost to tax cheating. Even modest success in reducing tax evasion would free up significant new resources for spending or deficit reduction. Yet last weekÕs budget deal nixed a proposal by the Obama Administration to strengthen the IRS’s enforcement capacity. [Read more]


Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan: Trillions for the Rich, Pain for Everyone Else

The metaphor of the federal government as a family that needs to cut back on spending is a popular one today. But when a family finds itself in difficult financial circumstances, there are at least two major options: (1) reduce spending, or (2) increase income. Now imagine a family that is having difficulty paying its bills, and the family decides that it needs to bring in less income. The family tells you that if they were $10,000 poorer then they would be better able to pay their bills. Most people would say that this family is insane. If you can’t pay your bills you need more income not less.

Yet, conservatives have been reducing the government’s income--tax revenue--massively. The tax cuts that conservatives have been pushing shows that they are not serious about addressing government deficits and debt. What they are serious about is increasing the wealth of the rich.

In December, the Tax Cut-Unemployment Compromise Bill included $139 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy. Among the items that conservatives won in this deal was a reduction in the taxes paid by people inheriting estates worth up to $5 million. Most of the people inheriting $5 million estates are no doubt quite well-off before the inheritance. Yet, conservatives were willing to keep unemployed workers from receiving unemployment insurance until they made certain that the rich would pay fewer taxes on inheritances.

The $5 million level in the new estate tax provision is indexed to inflation so that it does not decline in value over time. While this provision for millionaires is indexed to inflation, the minimum wage for the lowest-income American workers is not. Year after year, we allow the minimum wage to decline in value and allow the living standards of the poorest workers to degrade, but when it comes to policies for millionaires policymakers remember to make sure that millionaire’s benefits do not erode over time.

The latest and most-hyped among the conservative budget plans is Congressman Paul Ryan’s. Ryan’s budget plan proposes $4.3 trillion in cuts to programs for the needy with one hand and then gives $4.2 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy with the other. Thus, there is little in the way of debt reduction, just pain for the needy and windfalls for the rich.

And Ryan is extremely generous when it comes to dishing out pain for those who are not rich. His plan greatly weakens Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Pell Grants. Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that Ryan’s plan “would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.” This is a money grab for the rich, not a serious attempt to address the national debt.

“The Federal Treasury loses twice as much revenue due to tax breaks than Congress appropriates on all nonsecurity discretionary spending” reports the Center for American Progress, yet over and over again the target for conservatives is nonsecurity spending and not tax breaks. Social Security does not add to the national debt since it is funded separately from the federal budget and still has a surplus in its trust fund, but conservatives keep throwing it into debt reduction plans. None of this makes sense if one is truly concerned about our annual deficits and the national debt.

The real goal of conservatives is the perennial conservative goal of giving tax cuts to the wealthy and drastically reducing government services to low-income Americans. They have skillfully used the economic crisis (caused by the conservative policy of deregulating financial institutions, by the way) to mask their agenda. They would not be able to so easily accomplish this goal without the assistance of Democratic leadership in Washington. Key Democrats are more interested in forwarding their re-election strategy of appearing centrist and compromising with conservatives than in criticizing dangerously misguided conservative policies.