The most troubling feature about economic headlines is that the story isn’t in the big print.
Last week, for instance, economists celebrated a Census Bureau report hailing that median household income rose 5.2 percent from $53,718 in 2014 to $56,516 in 2015, a gain of $2,800. It was called the first real gain since 2007, and the largest gain on record back to 1967. Plus, the report concluded poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage last year.
So what’s there to whine about? Actually, a lot, starting with real median household income by race and Hispanic origin, a part of the census data that was barely reported. There are many places to start but for the sake of making this point let’s look at African-American household incomes vs. white household incomes over time. The picture is grim.
For an African- American family in the mid-1970s, your household brought in just about $30,000. By 2015, the number was $36,898. So from the time Nixon was exiting office to the end of last year, the real dollar change was about $7,000.
Now compare that with a white household in the mid-1970s. That household brought in about $50,000 — a $20,000 gap between black/white income right then. So what did the picture look like at the end of 2015? White households had climbed to nearly $63,000, resulting in a $26,000 gap. That’s not progress; that’s falling back for many African-American households.
The gap would be less problematic for African-Americans if the starting place in the mid-1970s and the ending place last year represented a livable income. These don’t. And for all Americans, income hasn’t returned to the year before the Great Recession doldrums.
What this says to me is that progress has been stunningly inadequate. Yes, there are dozens of reasons for it. However, the bottom line is that African-American households aren’t closing the gap fast enough. And if incomes aren’t growing, wealth is stalling as well, since many dollars of income are refunneled into making ends meet. That is the not so pretty picture that the top line headline doesn’t tell.
Originally posted on the Dallas Morning News by Jim Mitchell. On Twitter:@jimmitchell18