By James Clingman
During the 50-year period from 1963 (“I have a dream!”) to 2013, Black people have been on a virtual economic treadmill. Our relative economic position has not changed; our unemployment rate has consistently been twice as high as the White unemployment rate, which was 5 percent for Whites and 10.9 percent for Blacks in 1963. Today, it’s 6.6 percent for Whites and 12.6 percent for Blacks.
Our aggregate annual income is $1.1 trillion. But it’s not what you earn, it’s what you’re worth: The typical White family had $134,200 in wealth in 2013, while Black families had $11,000, which is lower than for Hispanic families, at $13,700.
The U.S. has a $17.7 trillion Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the world’s second-largest economy behind China. The total Gross Domestic Income (GDI), which some economists say is a better measure of an economy, was $9.3 trillion as of the fourth quarter of 2014.
A recent Pew Research study indicates that the financial gap between Blacks and Whites is the highest it’s been since 1989. In 2010, the median wealth of White households was eight times higher than Blacks; now it’s 17 times higher. The African-American economy, by either measure, GDP or GDI, despite reports of robust economic growth, remains mired in a recession.
You awake yet? So what can we do about it? Please. Don’t take that fatal leap of faith in thinking the “guvment” will take care of it. They are too busy counting our income as a huge part of GDP, because we spend nearly all of our $1.1 trillion on goods and services, which comprise 70 percent of GDP.
We must extrapolate a logical and appropriate response to the above information. All the reports in the world will do us no good if we fail to learn from them and then act upon what we know. After that, we must do our part as individuals to contribute to the collective economic/political uplift of our people and future generations.
What do we have, as individuals, to contribute to our economic and political success? We have votes and we have dollars; and if we cast our votes with leverage and spend our dollars strategically, we can achieve parity. Let’s face it, to chase the illusion of economic “equality,” via income and wealth, will only keep us diverted from setting practical and achievable goals.
MLK was partially correct when he posited that by obtaining employment in White corporations and using either strategic consumption or boycotts as leverage, Blacks could secure economic equality, just as we had secured civil rights. He was right about the leverage of our dollars, but wrong about the result of us getting jobs in corporate America. The above statistics prove that. Chasing equality instead of parity is futile, in that we are always chasing someone else’s standard, a standard that can be elevated at any time, thus never to be attained by the pursuer.
We must use our own intellectual and financial capacity to change our shameful and static economic position in this nation since MLK spoke in 1963. Fifty years of chasing an illusion are enough? We squandered our economic base and abdicated our personal economic responsibility when we abandoned our businesses to buy from others. We gave in to the notion that we could be equal if we elected Black folks to political office. So it’s up to us to admit those near fatal mistakes and work together to rectify them by pooling our resources, locally and nationally, and growing our businesses to the point where they can hire our own people.
We must gather enough conscious independent-thinking voters who will cast their votes as a bloc for the candidate who supports our best interests. Enough with the pre-election condescending rhetoric, kissing our babies, and coming to our churches at election time; they must explicitly state their support of our issues and follow through on that support. If we cannot win, why play?
We must save more money, irrespective of how much or how little we have. We must own property, or at least rent from one another. Blacks collectively lost between $164 billion and $213 billion in housing wealth as a result of sub-prime debacle. (And we are seeking “wealth equality”?) Therefore, we must also invest in stocks, and not tie all of our assets to real estate. We must find ways to decrease or eliminate our reliance on college loans, which will be a generational albatross around the necks of our youth, their parents, and even grandparents. And while we are at it, we should be petitioning the “guvment” for a massive student loan bailout. You know, the way the banks got bailed out of their debt.
Finally, go to www.iamoneofthemillion.com and sign up, and let’s get on the road to true freedom.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, Blackonomics.com.