The nearly 400-year history of black people in America has always been a race to catch up. Recent data shows that history has not changed.
United for a Fair Economy last month released its "State of the Dream Report" showing that African-Americans have only 10 cents in net wealth compared with 12 cents for Latinos and a dollar for whites. Among retirement-age adults, 60 percent of African-Americans and 65 percent of Latinos depend on Social Security for more than 80 percent of their income compared with 46 percent of whites.
Joblessness is a major problem, too, among people of color. Unemployment among African-Americans is 16 percent, 13 percent for Latinos and 9 percent among whites.
This is a "who you know" job market, which embraces white privilege. That excludes a lot of people of color. The National Urban League's "Jobs, State of Black America 2010: Responding to the Crisis" report said that in 2009 the unemployment rate for black youths ages 16 to 24 was 31 percent.
The Urban League report also said 60 percent of all moderate-income African-Americans who own their own home devote more than 30 percent of their income to housing costs, and it's nearly as high for those who rent. That's not good.
The State of the Dream Report also found that with the tax cuts for the rich that Congress passed last year, whites are three times as likely as blacks and 4.6 times as likely as Latinos to benefit from the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000. The report also shows that the benefits of the reduced tax rate for capital gains and dividends flowed "overwhelmingly to whites."
That and the weakening of the estate tax will continue to widen the wealth gap. Again, this is the disadvantaged history of blacks in America, beginning as people who were property by law.
The State of the Dream Report adds clarity to why government workers are so demonized. African-Americans are 1.3 times as likely as the general workforce to work in the public sector overall and 1.7 times as likely to work for the federal government.
"Additionally, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to achieve professional parity there due to civil rights protections unique to the public sector," the report said. But that also means that the denigration of government workers along with budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs and pay freezes are disproportionately affecting black and Latino workers.
Health disparities have been a lingering aspect of black history. A new report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children born to African-American women are up to three times as likely to die in infancy as babies born to women of other races.
The CDC report said that blacks die of heart disease and strokes at a higher rate than whites and die younger. High blood pressure also is a nemesis. The condition is twice as common among African-Americans as whites. In addition, blacks, Hispanics and American Indians have higher rates of new infections of HIV/AIDS than whites do.
In his speech at the Interfaith Service during the holiday program last month honoring the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. said African-Americans and others in the long civil rights struggle need "a second wind." Forbes, senior minister emeritus of Riverside Church in New York, said it was how blacks could catch up to living as equals in America.
He said the struggles were for safe housing, good schools, justice, jobs, civil rights, a fair foreign policy, equality, and an end to violence and wars.
"To get to the finish line, if that's the finish line, I think we're going to need a second wind," Forbes said.
Airick Leonard West, president of the Kansas City school board, said last month at the Johnson County King holiday celebration that people have to be aware and prepared to seize every opportunity to advance. Blacks can't be "asleep at the wheel" lest they wind up in the "driveway of injustice."
"Are we as a community prepared to create a just world or are we just asleep?" he asked.
My hope is that the downturn in the economy has awakened people and that the 21st century civil rights struggle for jobs, equality, justice, peace and opportunity will get a much needed second wind.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star's Editorial Board. Readers may write to him at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by e-mail at Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.