For people of color in the United States today, there is no economic recession. In fact, non-White households are being hit with a full-blown depression.
That's the conclusion of "State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression," the sixth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report from United for a Fair Economy.
For African Americans in particular, the current financial crisis "equals or exceeds the Great Depression of 1929," the report says. Almost 12 percent are unemployed; this is expected to increase to nearly 20 percent by 2010.
The report found that currently, the median household income of African Americans is $38,269. For Latinos it's $40,000, and for Whites it's $61,280.
Black men aged 16-19 have a 32.8 percent unemployment rate – almost double that of White men the same age, with 18.3 percent unemployment.
Overall, 24 percent of African Americans and 21 percent of Latinos live in poverty, while 8 percent of Whites do.
If the wider society falls deeper into a major recession, the financial pressure would force an estimated 33 percent of Black citizens out of the middle class income range. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of White citizens would fall into poverty.
"While media and public attention has focused on the recession that started a year ago for the total population, people of color have been experiencing a recession for five years," said Amaad Rivera, one of the report's co-authors. "By definition, a long-term recession is a depression."
According to the report, eliminating the racial wealth divide is an essential step toward eliminating institutional racism.
"A comprehensive economic policy could deal a knockout blow to structural racism and raise awareness of individual racism," it says.
Potential solutions include creation of "systemic wealth-building programs that help everyone;" institution of "watchdog policies" on home ownership; and aiming the 2009 economic stimulus programs toward investment in affordable housing, education, job creation, and savings among low- and middle-income people.
The report concludes that current economic policies have concentrated 68 percent of the nation's wealth in the top 10 percent of individuals.
United for a Fair Economy, which produces the annual report, is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that spotlights the growing economic divide by using historical data, academic papers, speeches, policy papers and government statistics — includes a critique of mainstream economic analysis and posits a new framework for evaluating economic well-being. The report is the first of its kind to do a thorough analysis of the historical reasons for the disparity in economic realities between whites and people of color, and to suggest steps toward remedying the problem.
"The current economic crisis requires more than a color-blind stimulus. It demands a complete economic restructuring that addresses the racial wealth divide," said Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Organizer and Research Associate at the Institute for Policy Studies, a co-author of the report.
The report explains the mechanisms that helped create the silent economic depression for people of color, explores how the depression affects individuals and communities of color, and proposes policy solutions to close the racial economic divide.