If you find yourself angry and apprehensive these days, you’re in good company.
Working men and women are livid over executive bonuses awarded at a time when layoffs and cutbacks are implemented to keep businesses afloat. Investors are anxiously waiting for the market to regain momentum and provide a tailwind for future earnings.
Last year’s “tea parties” were a clear demonstration of the dismay that many people feel over increasing government expenditures and what they may mean for future taxation. To all of this, many people of color—from the mutual fund investor to the medical technician—say “welcome to my world.”
Anger and apprehension are long-time residents in African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities. Unleveled playing fields and a lack of access are maddening realities that have impacted livelihoods and entrepreneurial endeavors for generations. Indeed, even in robust economic times, the state of minorities has been weak in comparison to the general population.
According to a report from the Center for Economic Progress, the economic expansion after the last recession failed to deliver rising incomes for most families, and economic weaknesses tend to have worse effects for minority families than for whites. Minority workers have fewer employment opportunities, lower wages or both as compared to their white counterparts, the report said.
The report goes on to say: “This leaves them with lower incomes and slower income growth. As a result, minorities are less well situated than white families to save and build wealth that would provide an economic cushion in bad economic times. When hard economic times hit, minorities find themselves in a precarious economic situation sooner than is the case for white families.”
As the report shows, across a range of economic indicators, Hispanics and African Americans trend behind their white counterparts.
- Minorities were more than 40 percent more likely than whites to experience unemployment at the end of 2008. The unemployment rate for African Americans amounted to 11.5 percent, compared to 8.9 percent for Hispanics, and 6.3 percent for whites.
- Although the unemployment rate rose for all groups, it increased much faster for minorities than for whites. The unemployment rate for whites rose by 2.1 percentage points, to 6.3 percent in December 2008 from 4.2 percent in December 2007, while the unemployment rate for African Americans grew by 2.9 percentage points and that of Hispanics rose by 3.1 percentage points during the same time period.
- These increases in the unemployment rate came after seven years during which minorities made no significant inroads in reducing their unemployment rates relative to whites. The unemployment rate for whites was 4.2 percent in December 2007 compared to 3.7 percent in March 2001, while the respective rates for Hispanics were 5.8 percent and 6.0 percent, and for African Americans were 8.6 percent and 8.1 percent.
- Employment for African Americans and Hispanics declined by 1.9 percent in 2008, while it dropped by 1.6 percent for whites.
- These employment losses came after meager employment gains, at least for African Americans and whites. The annualized job growth rate for whites averaged to an annualized rate of 0.6 percent and that of African Americans to 0.9 percent from March 2001 to December 2007.
- Regarding earnings, large earnings gaps persist among whites and minorities. Hispanics’ usual median weekly earnings stood at just $529 (in 2007 dollars) in the third quarter of 2008, while whites’ were $696.33. African Americans’ earnings stood at $554.99 in the third quarter of 2008.
These are just a portion of the indicators covered in the report. There’s clearly much there to fuel the fires of resentment and disillusionment.
Now that economic woes have clearly hit home across a much wider cross-section of Americans, we come to an important question: Can we channel this anger and apprehension into practices and policies that will benefit everyone?
The first step is to respect the anger out of a great appreciation for it. No one should “write off” the anger of people of color as a malaise that only affects a segment of society, a disgruntlement that is somehow “other than mine.” We share the pains of recession as well as the gains of expansion. In this market, when one group suffers, we all suffer.
The next step is to make sure that certain groups are not disproportionately fragile during economic downturns. We should hold elected officials accountable for ensuring that all communities share in the benefits of government stimulus in real ways. Union leaders must open job opportunities more widely. Companies must accelerate employment practices that advance greater inclusion at all levels, and exemplary companies push their business partners to do so.
Chicago United always has and always will address uneven playing fields, misunderstanding and a lack of equal opportunity—the root causes of anger and apprehension. With our Corporate Diversity Profile, we foster brutally honest dialogue about governance and leadership, and the impact of race and cultural competence in those areas. We help to grow diverse leadership with our Business Leaders of Color publication. We seek to expand the regional economy by making business partnerships more inclusive through the Five Forward program.
In the long run, discontentment can be destructive or constructive. I’m confident that we can all use that sentiment to fuel an economy that benefits all communities. iBi
Reprinted with permission. Gloria Castillo is president of Chicago United, an advocacy organization that brings together racially diverse CEOs with a common goal of creating a stronger social and economic climate for the Chicago area. Visit chicago-united.org for more information.