Economics and employment
Economically, blacks also have benefited from the advances made during the Civil Rights era. The racial disparity in poverty rates has narrowed slightly. The black middle class has grown substantially. In 2000, some 47 percent of African Americans owned their homes. However, African Americans are still underrepresented in government and employment. In 1999, median income of African American households was $27,910 compared to $44,366 of non-Hispanic whites.
There is, however, a growing African-American underclass, undereducated, unemployed and marginalized. In times of economic hardship for the nation, African-Americans suffer disproportionately from job loss and underemployment, with the black underclass being hardest hit. The phrase “last hired and first fired” is reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figures. Nationwide, the September 2004 unemployment rate for blacks was 10.3 percent, more than twice that of their white counterparts, who were unemployed at the rate of 4.7 percent. In early 2004, black male unemployment in New York City soared to 48.2 percent. At the time of this writing, that figure is slightly higher at approximately 50 percent. Nearly one-fourth of the African-American population lives in poverty, a rate three times that of white Americans. In 2000, 19.1 percent of blacks lived below poverty level, as compared to 6.9 percent of whites.
The income gap between black and white families also continues to widen. Employed blacks earn only 77 percent of the wages of whites in comparable jobs, down from 82 percent in 1975. In 2000, only 16.6 percent of blacks 25 years and older earned bachelor’s or higher degrees, in contrast to 28.1 percent of whites. Although rates of births to unwed mothers among both blacks and whites have risen since the 1950s, the rate of such births among African Americans is three times the rate of whites.
Black Americans have shorter life expectancies than the national average and often higher mortality rates for certain disease conditions. They suffer disproportionately from heart disease, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), hypertension, stroke, and diabetes. Blacks also require a disproportionately higher number of organ and tissue transplants, but the black donor rate is lower than that for whites. Lower-income blacks’ lack of access to quality health care; a general and well-documented pattern of race-based discrimination in health care delivery; as well as deep-seated distrust of the medical establishment occasioned, in part, by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study all are contributing factors to these trends.
The criminal justice system
Black experiences with and attitudes towards the criminal justice system differ markedly from whites. Although the of violent crime is dropping among blacks, more than one million African American men are currently in jail or prison. Homicide remains the leading cause of death among black men between the ages of 15 and 34. African Americans distrust the criminal justice system much more than do whites. In 1991, the brutal beating of an unarmed black motorist, Rodney King, by four Los Angeles police officers was captured on videotape. An all-white jury later acquitted the police officers, sparking riots in Los Angeles and protests around the country. Ten years later in June 2001, thousands of protesters in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community gathered to protest what they charged was an ongoing pattern of police brutality that culminated in the death of an unarmed teenager a few weeks before. Issues of unnecessary or excessive force, police harassment, police corruption, racial profiling, suspicious deaths of black detainees while in police custody, and illegal detainment and interrogation are common problems that perpetuate black distrust of, and antipaty toward, public law enforcement.