July unemployment numbers came out late last week. And they were still kinda sour with a total national unemployment rate of 9.4%. Ouch: and the numbers are much higher for African-Americans. Just before those digits came out, Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammed wrote a piece over at HuffPo talking about the death of the black middle class. There’s no question that black folks are being disproportionately hurt by the recession and that for our communities, it often looks like more of a depression. Still, the black bourgeoisie is socio-economic — it’s not just economic. There was a time when domestic servants, factory workers and Pullman Porters alongside doctors, teachers and lawyers all comprised the black middle class. It’s in part a cultural thing. So I take a little offense at this characterization. It’s not that we will lose the middle class — it’s that they need help after being unfairly targeted and discriminated against with unfair lending practices such as the subprime mortgage fiasco. Any economic recovery must address the extra-corrosive effect of economic racism on equal opportunity and fairness in lending. If black folks fail, ultimately (as we’ve already seen) so goes the rest of the nation.

Obama needs to keep the nation focused on building a highly educated, well-trained workforce, a health care system that doesn’t drag down businesses and families, and on creating clean energy jobs and industries.  Cuz yo, that’s where our future is.  And that’s where the jobs are at.

Still there are some interesting stats from Ehrenreich and Muhammed to consider:

To judge from most of the commentary on the Gates-Crowley affair, you would think that a “black elite” has gotten dangerously out of hand. First Gates (Cambridge, Yale, Harvard) showed insufficient deference to Crowley, then Obama (Occidental, Harvard) piled on to accuse the police of having acted “stupidly.” Was this “the end of white America” which the Atlantic had warned of in its January/February cover story? Or had the injuries of class — working class in Crowley’s case — finally trumped the grievances of race?

Left out of the ensuing tangle of commentary on race and class has been the increasing impoverishment — or, we should say, re-impoverishment — of African Americans as a group. In fact, the most salient and lasting effect of the current recession may turn out to be the decimation of the black middle class. According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class was already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession. Gates and Obama, along with Oprah and Cosby, will no doubt remain in place, but millions of the black equivalents of Officer Crowley — from factory workers to bank tellers and white collar managers — are sliding down toward destitution.

For African Americans — and to a large extent, Latinos — the recession is over. It occurred between 2000 and 2007, as black employment decreased by 2.4 percent and incomes declined by 2.9 percent. During the seven-year long black recession, one third of black children lived in poverty and black unemployment — even among college graduates — consistently ran at about twice the level of white unemployment. That was the black recession. What’s happening now is a depression.

Black unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, compared to 8.7 for whites. In New York City, black unemployment has been rising four times as fast as that of whites. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that 40 percent of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African American children to slightly over half. No one can entirely explain the extraordinary rate of job loss among African Americans, though factors may include the relative concentration of blacks in the hard-hit retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as the lesser seniority of blacks in better-paying, white collar, positions.

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