Who is Really “Hit Hardest” in this Recession?

How upside down have our politics gotten? Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that those making more than $250,000 were “the people who were hit hardest by this recession.”

The absurdity of that claim was highlighted that same day when the US Census Bureau released its new poverty numbers. While the big number everyone’s talking about is that one in seven Americans is now below the poverty level, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.

If you look deeper at the data, the story of who has actually been “hit hardest” is clear:

  • More than one in four black and Hispanic people are below the poverty line
  • Hispanics saw the biggest jump in poverty (2.1%)
  • Biggest drop in real income was among black people and non-citizens (4.4% and 4.5% drop, respectively)

You can see charts of this on the PolicyLink blog, EquityBlog.

But this is not about numbers. It’s about real people and real suffering.

The community-level consequences of this spike in poverty are stark and dire. Families are facing tight food budgets. Laid-off workers are losing their homes to foreclosure. Fragile community cohesion is fraying. And the vital infrastructure investments that were ignored during the Bush Administration remain bottled up in partisan politics – and millions of job-seekers suffer as a result.

We can see the pain and struggle in the faces of our neighbors, our family members, our children. But with white, college-educated people still facing non-crisis-level unemployment, it has been disturbingly easy for some politicians to ignore the deep and ongoing economic disaster in America.

If Sen. McConnell and his allies need more numbers to be convinced, how about these (click here for charts):

  • Since the recession began, the black unemployment rate has climbed 7.3 percentage points (9.0% in December 2007 to 16.3% today)
  • White unemployment has risen 4.5% and today sits below the pre-recession black unemployment rate (4.4% in December 2007 to 8.9% today)
  • Latino unemployment has nearly doubled during the recession (6.3% in December 2007 to 12.0% today)
  • While white and Latino unemployment has dropped or stabilized since May, black unemployment is actually on the rise (15.5% in May 2010 to 16.3% today)

What do we do about this? Thankfully, a clear path has already been blazed – if we can find the political will to simply walk down it.

The safety net investments made in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are crucial. Unemployment benefits, temporary worker assistance, food stamps, and state aid all must be extended until this crisis is over.

But we must look beyond just our immediate crisis. We must make sure tomorrow’s workforce is on steady footing. First, Congress must pass President Obama’s $50 billion infrastructure proposal – a solid start to a decades-long solution. Also, Rep. George Miller’s Local Jobs for America Act would stimulate local businesses and immediately put nearly one million Americans back to work. Passing that bill should be a no-brainer.

Tomorrow’s workforce will also need more training than ever. This skills crisis means we may soon face a severe shortage of skilled workers to fill our new jobs building and maintaining infrastructure like electrical grips, transit systems, and bridges. Getting low-income black and Latino youth plugged into our community college system would go a long way to preparing for tomorrow. All our families need support to weather this recession.

The jobs crisis in America is deep – and it is deepest for those who were already in a hole to start with. This recession won’t end until Congress gets serious about who is really “hit hardest.”

11 Responses to “Who is Really “Hit Hardest” in this Recession?”

  1. avatar

    The irony of all this is that recessions don't stir up the people in the inner cities and poor rural areas so much because these communiites are in a permanent economic depression with extremely high unemployment, homelessness, and despair. People have been numb for decades and have learned to survive the economy's little ups and downs while they struggle permanently in poverty. They don't own homes that have been foreclosed, and most don't have jobs from which they have been laid off. Fortunately, they do have public health care through Medicaid. Otherwise, millions of people in these communities barely make it, year after year. The sin and shame of our society is that we don't radically shift the opportunity structure to provide good education, decent jobs, and housing for all our citizens. This will take government support and private sector collaboration. Extending the tax cuts for the richest among us before we have made a viable commitment to ending poverty is irresponsible and immoral in my opinion. Let us together build a society in which all people can flourish with mutual respect and responsibility.

  2. avatar

    Thanks, Dorothy. This is exactly the kind of conversation we hope to have in the Race & America's Future Virtual Book Club, starting Sept. 29. Check here for details: http://equityblog.org/2010/09/08/finally-a-nation

  3. avatar

    The article's points are valid. It remains unfortunate that other minority populations–AI/ANs and Hawaiian Natives–are not included in the data sets. The article's states that ". . .this is not about numbers. It’s about real people and real suffering.." In truth, it's about SOME people who are convenient to quantify. It's not the whole picture by any means.

  4. avatar

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that the poverty level numbers are up. By the time Obama took office the recession had claimed approximately 3.5 million jobs. More have been lost since and the impact is obvious. Nor should it be surprising that people of color have been impacted the most. In the best of times their economic standing in our system is tenuous at best. The slightest hickup can dislodge them from a seemingly secure economic position. What is most distressing to me at this point is the government's refusal to explore some of the root causes of poverty and begin measuring the actual number of poor people in our society. I suspect that it is much higher than reported!

  5. avatar

    The poverty line was determined in 1964 by calculating the amount of money it costs to buy a basic basket of food and then multiplying that by three, the assumed percentage of a family's income spent on food. The measure does not consider any other costs and the calculation applies the same whether you live in New York, Los Angles or the San Joaquin Valley. Even though it is updated each year for inflation, it does not consider the cost of housing, transporation or healthcare. These costs items vary greatly from region to region but clearly impact a family's quality of life. In my estimation, they should be included in any calculation of poverty level. This would not only provide a truer pictuce of poverty which is no doubt much higher than the current numbers suggest. It would also give us a better idea of how to address the poverty issue. It cannot be a one size fits all solution because the root causes vary so from region to region.

  6. avatar

    Compare New York and Los Angles for example. While they have semilar poverty rates, approximately 18.5%, the root causes are diffferent and the ethnic groups impacted vary. This confirms for me that we have to look at poverty on a local or regional basis. However, no matter how we view it, for a country as rich as the U.S. to have so many of its citizens living in such states of desperation is close to a crime against humanity.

  7. avatar

    I am working on the promotion of access to post secondary education for individuals who are receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families or (TANF) families. We keep discussing "Pathways out of Poverty", "Half in ten" and other programs that are progressive and absolutely necessary so as a result, I challenge us to consider the issues surrounding TANF families and how their access to “allowable” forms of education continues to keep them in the ranks of the impoverished. What we seek to achieve is a message that illuminates the need to utilize post secondary education as a means to ascending not only the Welfare rolls, but poverty as a whole.
    My ability to do the work that I am currently invested in has only been made possible through groups like (LIFETIME) or Low-Income Families Empowerment through Education. It was through their peer mentoring programs that I learned of my individual right to education. Through this program I was able to navigate the welfare system throughout the many punitive sanctions placed on me as a result of my trying to obtain a degree.
    As I shared with Joe Brooks of Policy Link while attending the Applied Research Center's "Facing Race", there is a direct link between education, academic success and ascending poverty.
    It is important that as we move throughout this discourse on poverty elimination we bring the individuals that our organizations work for with us on this journey. All too often we see "advocates" speaking on behalf of under-served or marginalized groups, but we don't see them represented at the table. It is important that a few things occur with respect to seeing the changes we are working toward.
    1. As groups that work toward the elimination of poverty we must include those who we speak for daily in the process of engaging congress, funders, and other organizations in changing their circumstances.
    2. We must educate social workers and policy makers on how to best support the changing needs of TANF families in ways that promote self-sufficiency through a solid educational foundation leading to careers and not simply low wage non-benefited jobs.
    3. We must change the conversations surrounding TANF families so that it includes not just what we think is best from a policy stand point, but from a practical standpoint with the understanding that our idea of practical may not be that of the participants.
    4. We must find a way to not only marry but solidify the union between policy organizations and grassroots organizations so that the policies are shaped by the people directly affect by policy.
    PolicyLink is doing incredible work and I support and believe in all that your organization does, but I would like to see an open forum, town hall or other open space where people can be heard and get the word out about what is most impacting them as Low-Income families, and how they feel they can be best served.
    I think that the commitment to education that the administration has displayed is amazing, but I think that that commitment has to extend to folks who are trapped in the system regardless of their age, race, or gender.

    Anyania I. Muse

  8. avatar

    Poverty is a system that 's been in existance since the begining of slavery, and during the the civil war and presently. It should not take us by surprise what gropus are suffering the most in this country; we as the American people have to hold our political leaders accountable on all levels of public service, from federal, state, and local branches.

  9. avatar

    There are those in the private sector that need to be held accountable for creating jobs to help dismantle this crisis; to ignore whats transpiring in low and middle class communites both urban and non urban, is a relfection to the response we have seen from the 60's and 70's when people grew tired of the system. What I fear the most is the anger this generation feels, which is justified to a certain degree. We have to fix this, if not ,we will all suffer. Communities and middle class communities in 2010 is a set up for past riots and crime to increase. However all blame can't be cast towards our government fro a person of color's persepctive I feel disguisted at the lack of support and investments black atheletes have not contributed to creating jobs for our people.
    The church plays a role in restoring communities, at least that was the pressence of the black church during Kings era, sadly we have mega fronts and facades who assist very little with helping their people in times of need, but the bucket is being passed three and four times a service, when moast church members cant get their mega churches to give them a monthly bus card or gas voucher.

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