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Increased Black Home Ownership Would Slice Wealth Gap

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Researchers studying the affects of public policy on the racial wealth gap estimated that the median wealth of Black households would rise 451 percent if Blacks owned homes at the same rates as Whites.

“With policies that advance the rate of Black and Latino homeownership to the same rate as White households, Black median wealth would more than quadruple and Latino media wealth would more than triple,” said Catherine Ruetschlin, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a public policy group that advocates for political and economic equality.

A joint effort by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), a research group that advocates for economic opportunity, security and equity for individuals and families, detailed the key factors in housing, education, and the labor market that have contributed to the racial wealth gap for generations.

The report by said that the median Black household had $7,113 in wealth holdings compared to the median White household, which had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011.

“Black households hold only 6 percent of the wealth owned by White households, which amounts to a total wealth gap of $104,033, and Latino households hold only 8 percent of the wealth owned by White households, a wealth gap of $102,798,” stated the report. “In other words, a typical White family owns $15.63 for every $1 owned by a typical Black family and $13.33 for every $1 owned by a typical Latino family.”

According to the report if public policy eliminated racial disparities in income, the median Black wealth would grow $11,488 and if disparities in college graduation rates were eradicated, median Black wealth would grow $1,313.

Thomas Shapiro, the director at IASP, said that the racial wealth gap is one of the most critical issues as the United States moves into the 21st century. Shapiro said that researchers designed a new tool called the “Racial Wealth Audit,” to get a real, objective handle on the impact of policy on wealth accumulation in the United States and what the racial wealth gap really looks like.

Tamara Draut, the vice president of policy and research at Demos, said that while researchers and policy analysts have been heartened by the burgeoning debate surrounding rising inequality in the United States and the implications that it has for all of our standards of living, the underlying racial divide that underpins so much of the inequality in this country is less understood and less talked about.

“In addition, Black and Latino college graduates saw a lower return on their degrees than White graduates: for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Black households associated with a college degree, median White households accrue $11.49,” stated the report.

Black families also experienced lower returns on the income that they earned, when compared to White families.

“If households of color had the same wealth returns estimated for White families with similar incomes, the racial wealth gap would decrease by 43 percent,” said Tatjana Meschede, the research director at IASP. “To make progress in closing the racial wealth gap, policies need to address both income inequality and differential wealth returns to income.”

Meschede said policy recommendations to address income inequality included raising the minimum wage, the creation of a federal jobs program and increasing unionization.

“Homeownership is the largest reservoir of wealth and financial stability that American families have,” said Thomas Shapiro, the director at IASP. “It’s just that it is so inequitably distributed at this point in time in the value of wealth that it creates.”

With the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, the United States government sanctioned lenders to use “redlining” to systematically deny Blacks access to that reservoir of wealth for decades.

“While redlining was officially outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, its impact in the form of residential segregation patterns persists with households of color more likely to live in neighborhoods characterized by higher poverty rates, lower home values, and a declining infrastructure compared to neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by White residents,” stated the report. “Discriminatory lending practices persist to this day. When households of color access mortgages, they are more often underwritten by higher interest rates.”

Draut said that some economists and lawmakers have drawn the wrong conclusions about what happened during the financial collapse and that misunderstanding is preventing faster progress towards the policies that we need.

“We know that lower-income homeowners can afford homes, stay in their homes and not be subject to foreclosure, if they have safe, traditional mortgages,” explained Draut. “The defamation of wealth and the resulting foreclosures were really due to the aggressive marketing and selling of toxic mortgages to communities of color that directly put their homeownership status in danger.”

Shapiro expressed concerns about some of the current conversations taking place on Capitol Hill and at the Treasury Department around financial reforms in the housing industry, adding that some policymakers have floated the idea that prospective buyers should take on more risk, possibly in the form of larger down payments.

“Those are precisely the kinds of reforms that will continue to block families of color from homeownership,” said Shapiro.

In order to close the wealth gap, Ruetschlin said that policies that perpetuate differences in homeownership rates and returns should be changed.

The report recommended stricter enforcement of housing anti-discrimination laws, authorizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it easier for struggling homeowners to modify loans and lowering the cap on the mortgage interest tax deduction.

Ruetschlin said that, the investor class and international governments increasingly point to widening inequality as a real threat to economic stability and that the amount of wealth a family holds affects their ability to survive that shock when volatility occurs.

She explained, “Growing inequality can really undermine stability overall and make it even harder for an increasingly large portion of the population to weather those shocks when they come.”

Record Number of Former Workers Without Benefits

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With no federal unemployment insurance and rapidly disappearing state coverage, the percentage of people benefiting from unemployment insurance is at its lowest level in more than three decades, according to a report by According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on low- and middle-income families.

EPI said the unemployment insurance recipiency rate tumbled to 23.1 percent in December 2014, beating the previous record low of 25 percent set in September 1984.

State lawmakers continue to slash jobless benefits, enacting policies that make it harder for the programs to work effectively. The policies have a disproportionate impact on unemployed Blacks who often face greater challenges than Whites, as they struggle to stay connected to the labor market and make ends meet while they search for jobs.

“Many critics of UI programs wrongly assume that the lion’s share of jobless workers get benefits,” stated the report. “This is plainly wrong over the history of UI and especially in the more restrictive states. The U.S. short-term recipiency rate was 34.7 percent in 2014, meaning that over 65 percent of short-term jobless workers did not get state UI benefits.”

The report continued: “Some of the difference may be due to workers’ choices or preferences, but some may reflect discrimination in hiring and the reported reasons for separation from those jobs, both of which can affect eligibility.”

Even though unemployment rates are higher for Blacks than Whites, Blacks are less likely to receive unemployment benefits even when compared to workers with similar characteristics.

“One in 4 unemployed non-Hispanic white workers with less than a high school education receive UI, while 1 in 8 unemployed non-Hispanic black workers with less than a high school education receive UI,” the Urban Institute report explained. “This means many low-wage unemployed African American workers are likely suffering more economic hardship than their white counterparts—an especially adverse outcome given that African Americans likely have fewer assets to fall back on.”

In a press release about the report, Rick McHugh, an attorney and policy advocate who works on UI issues, said that a smaller percentage of jobless workers is receiving unemployment benefits than ever before.

“Because there were no federal benefit extensions in 2014, workers who exhausted state benefits had less protection from the harm caused by unemployment than any similar cohort of jobless workers since the late 1950s—when Congress first began benefit extensions,” said McHugh.

And according to a 2012 report by the Urban Institute, an independent public policy and research group, “Black unemployed workers have the lowest receipt of unemployment insurance, 23.8 percent compared to whites’ 33.2 percent.”

Since 2011, the states that cut how long workers could receive unemployment benefits were primarily in the South where most Blacks live. Excluding Oklahoma, Arizona and South Dakota, 7 out of 10 states with the lowest short-term UI recipiency rates in 2014 have higher percentages of Black residents than the national average.

“In 21 states, 70 percent or more of short-term jobless workers did not get UI benefits in 2014,” stated the EPI report.

The report said that jobless workers in Louisiana (32.4 percent Black population), Georgia (31.4 percent Black pop.), South Carolina (27.9 percent Black pop.) and Florida (16.7 percent Black pop.) had some of the lowest short-term UI recipiency rates in the country.

The highest short-term UI recipiency rate in the country was 65.7 percent in New Jersey (14.7 percent Black) and the lowest was South Carolina at 14.8 percent.

When lawmakers in North Carolina (22 percent Black) cut the duration for UI and the dollar amount for weekly benefits, “recipiency rate fell by 16.3 percentage points, 8.6 times more than the overall national decline, since the cuts went into effect,” the report said.

Researchers suggested that throwing more federal money at states that want to keep UI programs “as small and stingy as possible” won’t fix the problem. They said that UI advocates should focus on setting federal standards for benefits and financing.

“The point of unemployment insurance is to help workers who are out of work through no fault of their own, and give them a chance to support themselves and their families while they look for another job.” said Will Kimball, a research assistant at EPI, that specializes in wages, labor markets, macroeconomics, international trade, and health insurance. “When states cut the generosity and length that benefits were available, they failed the workers who need help the most.”

Earlier this month the Labor Department reported that the Black unemployment rate increased from 10.3 percent in January to 10.4 percent in February and the labor force participation rate, the share of workers that are employed or looking for jobs, also increased from 61 percent to 61.2 percent over the same period.

Even as the economy continues to grow, the Black unemployment rate is still more than double the White unemployment rate, which fell from 4.9 percent in January to 4.7 percent in February. Employers added 295,000 to the economy in February and the national unemployment rate ticked down to 5.5 percent.

But for those lucky enough to have jobs, wages largely remain stagnant.

In a blog post on wage growth, Elise Gould, a senior economist and director of health policy research at EPI, said that, because corporate profits are near all-time highs, employers can pay their workers more without having to raise prices.

“They might even find that workers who are paid more have more company loyalty, leading to better recruitment and retention, and higher productivity,” wrote Gould. “It’s a reminder that the path we’ve chosen – one where economic gains are disproportionately enjoyed by those at the top – is a choice.”

Gould said that increases in the minimum wage across the country (18 states in 2014) show that the right policies can help turn things around.

“And this change made a difference: while real hourly wages fell or stagnated across the board last month, low wage workers actually saw a modest wage increase,” said Gould.

That modest increase is good for Black workers who disproportionately earn low wages.

“We’re still far enough away from full employment that additional fiscal stimulus would pay big dividends. This is unfortunately not on the table, politically speaking, though economically it would be relatively easy,” said Gould. “But it’s important that policymakers – particularly those at the Federal Reserve – not put the brakes on the recovery prematurely.”

Counting the Victims of Police Violence

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—As Eric Holder ended his tenure as U.S. Attorney General, he said, “The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers, or uses of force by police,” he said, at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. “This strikes many – including me – as unacceptable.”

As it stands, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice compile information on police killings, as reported by police departments themselves. But there are challenges with the reliability with this data. By law, collecting and providing this information to the government is mandatory only for police agencies that receive certain federal funds; police killings found to be unjustified are not included in the FBI’s measures; and reporting guidelines can vary from place to place, to name a few issues.

Over the past few years, citizens have attempted to step in where official entities would not, creating well-regarded crowdsourced online databases such as KilledbyPolice.net, FatalEncounters.org and the U.S. Police Shootings Database (launched by Web sports blog, Deadspin).

MappingPoliceViolence.org is the newest addition to this effort. Mapping Police Violence builds on this tally by merging and crosschecking those first two databases. It compiles a month-by-month death toll for 2013 and 2014; and by combing through media reports and other public data, the contributors have confirmed the race of every victim in 2014.

Samuel Sinyangwe, a 24-year-old Ferguson protester and one of the project’s directors, said that this detail is missing for approximately 60 percent of the victims in the source databases.

Though the project highlights the disproportionate killing of Black people, it includes all reported deaths by date, location, race, age, gender, cause of death, and medical condition (e.g. under the influence, mentally disabled, etc.). Additionally, users can compare police departments around the country by population, murder rate, and how “likely to threaten Black life” they are.

“When you compare White folks and Black folks who were killed by police, there are big differences. White folks tended to be more likely to have a mental illness, to be armed, to be older… or to be drunk or under the influence. So they were more likely to have some condition that made it more challenging for police to deal with them,” Sinyangwe says.

“However for Black folks, they were less likely to do all of these things, and then they were still more likely to be killed. You can only do that analysis if you looked at all races and were able to compare and contrast.”

By Mapping Police Violence’s count, police killed at least 1,175 people in 2014. Of these victims, 302 were Black – a disproportionate rate of 26 percent – and 56 percent of these Black victims were unarmed. Most victims were shot, but other causes of death included Tasing, physical restraint, being hit by cars, and in one case in New York, falling from a window.

“What you can show quite plainly with this tool is that, in fact, places with the same amount of crime, the same demographics, have very different levels of police violence. So crime is not an excuse,” Sinyangwe said. “We’re hoping to really help [communities and organizers] make the case for why a given city or police department is really culpable for this and really needs to make a change.”

According to the data, Florida, Texas, and California had the highest number of Black victims last year (each responsible for between 20 and 35 deaths). Police departments responsible for the most deaths last year include Chicago Police Department (13 killed), followed by Los Angeles and New York (10 each), and Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland (five deaths).

Sinyangwe points out that for the city of St. Louis, if the current trend continues, Black males 27 and younger will have a statistically greater chance of being killed by police than dying in a car accident.

The data also shows a marked drop in police killings after Michael Brown’s death and the start of the Ferguson protests. In August 2014, police killed 140 people around the country, 43 of them Black; the next month, those numbers fell to 80 and 19, respectively. They still have not returned to their August 2014 levels, for any demographic.

MappingPoliceViolence.org is run by Ferguson protesters and organizers, and is a project of the movement’s online hub, WetheProtesters.org. Volunteers around the country contribute to, sort, and verify the information.

“What I hope, and what DeRay [McKesson], [Johnetta Elzie], and I are building the capacity to do, is to use this tool to support groups on the ground…to be able to really make the case, using the best data available, for long-term institutional change,” Sinyangwe says.

“Particularly in the Midwest, and then a little bit in the South, there really are hotbeds for police violence. The question is, can we actually do something on a preventative end instead of waiting until a huge tragedy happens?”

Study: Blacks Engage with Local News More than Whites

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A growing body of research indicates that Black people pay more attention to local news and digital media than other groups.

The Pew Research Center revisited this trend with its study titled, “Local News in a Digital Age.” The research surveys residents of Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa to examine news consumption and community involvement habits along racial lines.

“One of the greatest disparities occurs not across metro areas, but within them:

that of race and ethnicity,” the report finds. “Both Hispanics in Denver and Blacks in Macon closely follow local and neighborhood news at higher rates than their white counterparts.”

In Macon, where the researchers compared data between Black and White respondents, 70 percent of Black people followed local news closely, compared to 43 percent of White respondents, and 60 percent of Hispanic respondents in Denver.

People who pay attention to the news are interested in a variety of topics. But Black respondents gave particular attention to news about crime.

“In Macon, about half (51 percent) of residents follow crime news very closely, substantially higher than in the other two cities studied,” the report states. “Macon residents also stand out somewhat from the other two cities for their close attention to what is happening in local schools, the local economy, local government and politics, and local jobs and unemployment.”

Among respondents who focused on crime, Black peoples were also more likely to discuss crime news with others – 86 percent of Black respondents said they did, compared to 76 percent of White respondents.

The study notes that income and education also influences the interest in crime news; respondents with lower incomes and less education were likelier to be informed about the crime in their neighborhoods.

The Macon metropolitan area is 41 percent Black, which may also help explain another of the report’s findings: Black residents are more likely to “feel they can have a big impact on the city” than their White counterparts. This was also true for Hispanics in Denver, in comparison to White respondents there.

This optimism about their own capacity is in stark contrast to their outlook on the city –only 9 percent Macon respondents rated it an “excellent” city, and 43 percent rated it “fair to poor.”

Still, people in Macon, Black and otherwise, generally have the highest civic participation rates among the three cities surveyed. It is unclear whether the high news consumption causes people to be more involved in their communities, or whether it is the other way around.

Interestingly, Black people in the study engage with their local media more, and in different ways than do their White neighbors. Social media, for example, is a more important pathway to the news for Black respondents than for their White counterparts.

“For example, blacks in the Macon area who get local news from The Telegraph are more likely than whites to access the site via social media,” the report states.

“Among consumers of other print publications beside the major daily, blacks are nearly three times as likely to have gotten there via social media than whites (25% vs. 9%). And about twice as many blacks (13%) who get news on local radio access it through social media than do whites (6%).”

Black people in Macon are also more likely than Whites to interact with their local media outlets, as opposed to simply consuming the news. They were more likely to call into a live radio show, comment on a local news or local government blog or website, submit their own content to a news outlet.

Despite all of this interest in news, Macon is sorely lacking in media options geared toward Black people or their interests. The report lists the Georgia Informer, a monthly community paper, as the only Black-centric publication serving Macon. There are 17 outlets in Denver serving people of color.

“Overall interest in local news, meanwhile, is highest in the city with the most limited number of offerings and the lowest level of education and household income,” the report says, in reference to Macon.

“These three cities are not meant to be extrapolated to the nation as whole, but they do indicate the degree to which local factors – from digital infrastructure to economics to civic engagement to race, ethnicity and education – contribute to the mix of providers that emerge, the public that supports them and the ways they interact.”

Debt Balloons Off the Charts in Ghana, Angering Critics

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) – The steady nation of Ghana could be heading for a painful train wreck as government borrowing raises the foreign debt to sky-high levels.

Last month, President John Mahama signed on to a nearly $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. To service the loan, the government will be forced to impose austerity measures that are very likely to hurt Ghanaian citizens. These measures include increases in fuel prices, a freeze on hiring public-sector workers and an end to energy subsidies.

The plan will be presented to the IMF’s board for approval in April, with the first pay out of approximately $100 million to be made shortly after.

According to Akwasi Sarpong, an analyst for BBC Africa, the bailout was considered necessary for the restoration of investor confidence in a struggling economy beset by crippling electricity blackouts.

Then, on the heels of the IMF bailout, more borrowing was announced. State-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation is close to signing a $700 million loan agreement with a group of private commercial lenders led by commodity trader Trafigura as part of plans to recapitalize for expansion, the GNPC chief executive said.

It’s the largest loan taken out by the GNPC since the start of oil production in 2010, which many had cheered as a harbinger of prosperity for all.

Unfortunately for Ghana, the world is awash with oil, at some of the lowest prices per barrel in years. In fact, the world is running out of storage for the oil that has already been pumped.

The mountainous borrowing was defended by Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, who dismissed the figure of $1 billion as insignificant. “Nine hundred and forty million dollars over a three-year period is not a lot of money, it is just about $300 million a year,” he told regional ministers at a conference in Cape Coast. “Now our infrastructure requirements are in the region of about $5 billion a year, so infrastructure alone is overwhelmingly bigger than the resources we are receiving from the IMF.”

But critics of the mounting loans are worried. At a press conference in early January, Minority Leader Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu attacked the ballooning of the public debt from $2.6 billion in 2008 to $19.7 billion today.

“Last year at this time, the burden for every Ghanaian was $582. One year on, the debt per capita has increased by 40 percent. No thanks to ‘yentie obi ara’ (‘we are not listening to anyone’) government.”

“What is the most important issue in Ghana today?” asked Stephen Nyarko in Ghanaweb. “It is four letters long. Yes, it is DEBT, and it is the unsustainable type.”

Nyarko continued, “Not long ago, Ghana had a positive economic future, according to the World Bank and IMF. The narrative of ‘Ghana Rising’ was all over the international financial press. Ghana’s once mighty Ghana new cedi has now achieved infamy as the worse performing currency in the world. The slumping currency is fueling inflation. The impact on citizens economic well-being has become so that well-meaning citizens who invested in the Ghana new cedi in 2007, have seen their wealth and savings totally wiped out.

“If we are to get over our current unsustainable debt burden, we need to restart the debate about the breakneck speed at which Ghana has been borrowing money and using its natural resources—oil, gold, cocoa—as collateral. The old models of just borrowing yourself out of poverty and inefficiencies do not fit.”

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BVN National News Wire