There’s a growing gap between the haves and have-nots and a deepening divide along racial lines.
- For young Michigan children (under 5), 45 percent of African Americans and 38 percent of Hispanics are growing up in poverty, compared with 15.4 percent of young white children;
- Michigan’s unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2009 was nearly 23 percent for African Americans, and just under 13 percent for whites; and
- Between 2001 and 2008, inflation-adjusted median household income dropped 16.3 percent for African Americans, 13.6 percent for Hispanics and 9.3 percent for whites.
The League’s Labor Day report last fall by League researcher Peter Ruark also tracked the unsettling trend of Michigan workers losing ground when it comes to wages, with a far harsher impact on African American workers.
In 1979, the median wage was roughly the same for white and African American workers at about $6.20 an hour. By 2008, the median wage, when adjusted for inflation, dropped for white workers by nearly 6 percent. But African American workers experienced a startling 23 percent decline.
Recessions hit harder those families least able to withstand the economic rollercoaster. Kids in particular are hurt. In Michigan, the recession means more people need help just as falling tax revenues means there are fewer resources to help.
Dr. King’s words are as true today as they were when he wrote them more than four decades ago: “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.’’
Make sure to watch the airing of By the People: Hard Times, Hard Choices at 9 p.m. tonight (Monday) on WKAR and check the listings for other public TV stations. The program uses panels of citizens, brought together in November, to explore solutions to Michigan’s economic woes, racial division and other problems. League President and CEO Sharon Parks participated.
— Judy Putnam