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Wake Up: Economic Inequality Among Minorities No Longer Just a Minority Problem

Take economic opportunity away from the nation's largest minority groups and you literally sabotage the economy.
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As the rest of America continues to recover from the impact of the Great Recession, African Americans and Latinos are falling behind economically. That's according to new data by the National Urban League in its annual "State of Black America" report, which analyzes data from federal agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the report's most troubling findings are the effects of the jobs crisis, which are far worse for communities of color. The black unemployment rate is over 13 percent -- nearly twice that of the white unemployment rate. And the gap is even wider for women, many of whom are mothers and the sole providers of their households.

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The report also points out that although the overall national unemployment rate is down in recent months -- labor force participation reached a 35 year low in December of 2013. But when you factor in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the U-6 rate, which includes the number of the unemployed actively seeking work, plus those who aren't looking but want and are available to work, plus discouraged workers as well as part-time workers who want to work full-time -- the actual rate of underemployment remains high at 12.6 percent. That's almost double the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers are worse for minorities. By the end of 2013 the rate of underemployment for African Americans was 20.5 percent, compared to 18.4 percent for Hispanic workers and 11.8 percent for white workers.

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League said:

While 'too big to fail' corporations went into the bail-out emergency room and recovered to break earnings and stock market records, most Americans have been left in ICU with multiple diagnoses of unemployment, underemployment, home losses and foreclosures, low or no savings and retirement accounts, credit denials, and cuts in education and school funding.

Unfortunately, economic marginalization of disenfranchised groups of people is par for the course in America. The difference today is, until recently, it had far fewer consequences for the overall economy as it does now. Unlike the Civil Rights era, thanks to a shift in population growth and several other socio-economic factors, economic disparities among minorities are now everyone's problem. The numbers are clear.

Consider this: according to a study by Esri, a geographic information software company which analyzes population, if current rates of national population change continue on the track they have for the last two decades, by 2035, non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered by minorities. California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas already have minority non-Hispanic white populations. This minority-to-majority flip is expected to happen sooner among children younger than 18. Non-Hispanic white children are estimated to be the minority among that demographic in less than five years.

Even more notable, if for no other reason than the lure of the almighty dollar, a report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the Terry College of Business, shows that minority groups in the U.S. commanded an unprecedented amount of economic clout in 2013. The report lays out a statistical perspective of the buying power -- or the amount of income left over after taxes excluding savings and loans -- of African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics from 1990-2018.

With about $1.2 trillion in disposable income (a larger number than the entire Turkish economy), Hispanics represent an economic powerhouse thanks to an increase in population, immigration and Hispanic enterprise. Hispanics also comprise over 16 percent of the total U.S. population and beat U.S. population growth by more than four times -- totaling 56 percent from 2000-2010. That means Hispanics have a huge influence on all sectors of society -- especially the economy. The metropolitan areas with the largest Hispanic populations are located in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami -- all huge economic hubs.

Similarly, African American consumers command a $1 trillion market, according to the 2013 Multicultural Economy report. It may be a bit smaller than overall Hispanic disposable income, but the black population's buying power is almost the same. And even though the black population is growing at a slower rate than the Hispanic population, it's still growing. Between 1990-2000 the African American population rose by 17 percent. Between 200-2010 it grew by 12 percent.

Now consider the fact that many U.S. cities are growing faster than suburbs for the first time in decades thanks to changing attitudes about urban areas and the housing bust. According to new data released by the Census Bureau, population growth has been shifting to cities, particularly since the economic recovery began and the trend has been gaining traction since 2010. The population shift can largely be attributed to young professionals and retiring Baby Boomers. Most importantly, Census data shows that urban areas are becoming increasingly populated with -- you guessed it -- Latino, Asian and African Americans.

Take economic opportunity away from the nation's largest minority groups and you literally sabotage the economy with the most immediate and damaging impacts being felt on the youth of these demographics.

The nation's total buying power will reach $12.4 trillion in 2013 as a result of an expanding post-recession economy. Since 2000 the market is up 70 percent and 12 percent since 2010. I wrote an article not long ago that laid out forecasters predictions indicating not only do many economists believe job growth will increase in 2014 but there will also be a surge of better-quality, higher-paying jobs. However, if more is not done to empower the nation's minority populations, whose buying power continue to outpace the growth of the white market, we could start to see the erosion of the economic progress made since the start of the recovery.

This year's NUL report, "One Nation Underemployed: Jobs Rebuild America," uses an updated annual Equality index -- the organization's measure of tracking racial equality in America to highlight just how great the economic disparities are. And for the first time, the report ranked populous American cities from most equal to least equal for income equality and unemployment equality. The 2014 equality index for blacks is 71.2 percent -- up from 71.0 percent last year. But the economic index for blacks is down slightly at 55.5 percent from 56.3 percent. The study's authors warn that the overall numbers may reflect improvements in some areas and regression in others. The equality index for Hispanics is up slightly to 75.8 percent compared to 74.6 percent last year while economics for Hispanics dropped slightly from 60.8 percent to 60.6 percent.

To sum it up, instead of having a full deck of cards to play the game of life with, African Americans are missing nearly 30 percent of and Hispanics are missing about 24 percent of the cards that whites have. If all of this data isn't enough to persuade the masses of otherwise apathetic citizens to address the need for greater economic parity among minorities with the rest of the population, consider the most innocent among us. Statistical data showing a strong correlation between economic opportunity and education is well known. If young Black and Hispanic youth are raised in communities with high employment and income gaps - well known breeding grounds for crime and other problems -- many won't have a fighting chance at becoming the productive members of society they have the potential to be. Instead of becoming drivers of economic growth, their economic disenfranchisement will be a drag on the entire economy.