October 13, 2020
The Economics of Being Black in the U.S.
The COVID-19 recession demonstrates an axiom of economics. Black unemployment always exceeds the rate for whites, the spikes are higher in recessions, and, in a recovery, employment recovers more slowly.
A record number of Black Americans were employed in 2019. But when the economy seized up in the spring, their unemployment rate soared to 17 percent, before floating down to a still-high 12.1 percent in September. Meanwhile, the white unemployment rate dropped in half, to 7 percent.
The much higher peaks in the unemployment rate for Blacks than whites and the slower recovery are baked into the economy.
This phenomenon occurred during the “jobless recovery” from the 2001 downturn. When the economy had finally restored all of the jobs lost in that recession, the Black jobless rate remained stubbornly higher.
And after the 2008-2009 recession, as the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center accurately predicted at the time, Black unemployment hovered at “catastrophic levels” longer than the white rate did. This disparity is now the issue in the COVID-19 recession.
Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, a Boston College economist who writes a blog about inequality, gives three interrelated reasons for Black workers’ higher unemployment rates.
First, “The U.S. still has a tremendous amount of education inequality, and the unemployment rate is always higher for people with less education,” he wrote in an email. Despite the big strides by Black men and women to obtain college degrees, roughly 30 percent have degrees, compared with more than 40 percent of whites, he said.
Second, Black workers without degrees are vulnerable because they are more likely to earn an hourly wage. An hourly paycheck means that a company can cut costs by simply reducing or eliminating a worker’s hours. “It’s much easier to lay off hourly workers, whose employment is more flexible by nature, than salaried workers,” Sanzenbacher said. …Learn More
July 16, 2020
Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap
The Black Lives Matter protesters have brought renewed attention to the enduring economic inequality that separates Black and white America.
Homeownership is at the heart of this disparity.
For many Americans, their largest source of wealth is the value they have built up in their homes over time. The house is also traditionally the primary way for moderate- and middle-income parents to pass wealth on to their children.
But less than half of African-Americans own homes, and the ones who do have a fraction of the equity whites have due in large part to the nation’s long history of segregated housing, economists say.
Further, the tidal wave of foreclosures a decade ago reduced the already low homeownership in minority communities, which felt the brunt of the housing market collapse. The Black homeownership rate is just 42 percent – 5 percentage points lower than it was in 2000. White homeownership remained stable throughout the crisis and is now around 72 percent, the Urban Institute said.
The upshot of this combination of fewer Black owners and less equity for those who own a house is that the typical African-American worker has $4,400 in home equity, compared with $67,800 for whites. The home equity gap accounts for about half of the Black-white disparity in total wealth.
A web of systemic reasons explain the home equity gap. Black homebuyers have more debt, in part because they are twice as likely to receive a mortgage with a high interest rate as white buyers with comparable incomes. …Learn More
April 28, 2020
Fintech Lenders Discriminate Less
Do online financial companies give minorities a fair shake?
Researchers and consumers have found some early evidence that this fast-growing segment of the financial industry – Fintech – may be mitigating, though not eliminating, the legacy of discrimination that has been widely documented in the brick-and-mortar mortgage industry.
First came bank redlining, a conceptual line lenders drew around black neighborhoods. In a famous study, banks rejected black loan applicants more often than white borrowers with the same incomes. Lenders have also been found to discriminate by charging black borrowers higher interest rates for their mortgages.
Discrimination took a different form when subprime lending invaded the mortgage market prior to the 2008 financial collapse. Commissions to subprime loan brokers gave them an incentive to make as many loans as possible, and the high-interest-rate mortgages more often found their way into minority communities, even to the high-income people who could have qualified for regular mortgages.
But Fintech’s algorithms have improved the dynamics of lending for minority borrowers. The danger now is that the progress they have seen might be reversed as the pandemic batters the mortgage industry and loans dry up.
A November study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that Fintech lenders have made more loans in under-served minority and rural neighborhoods. The theory behind this is that old-style bankers discriminated against minorities because they met loan applicants face-to-face. Fintech’s computer algorithms, the argument goes, are blind to race, and loan approvals are more anchored in a borrower’s creditworthiness.
Economists at the University of California at Berkeley found more mixed but still promising results. FinTech lenders “do not discriminate at all in the decision to reject or accept a minority loan application,” the researchers concluded from an analysis of lending patterns.
But the other common form of discrimination against minority borrowers does exist: they are charged interest rates that are about one-tenth of a percentage point more than the rates charged to white borrowers. These higher rates cost African-American and Hispanic borrowers an estimated $765 million in extra interest annually. …Learn More
November 19, 2019
Social Security Eases Racial Disparities
Social Security is a major source of income for most retirees. It is even more important to blacks and Hispanics in a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse.
Social Security is helping to even out the racial and ethnic inequities in income and wealth that exist in the working population and continue in old age, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers estimate how much Social Security reduces this inequality by comparing retirement wealth for white, black, and Hispanic-Americans.
Wealth is defined broadly to include obvious things like home equity and financial assets such as 401(k) retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts. In addition, the researchers converted the income that workers get from Social Security and defined benefit pensions into wealth by estimating the total value today of their future benefit checks.
The estimates of wealth, when Social Security is excluded, reveal enormous disparities. The typical white worker in his early- to mid-50s can expect to have about $177,000 in non-Social Security wealth in retirement, compared with just $24,000 for blacks – about a 7 to 1 ratio. Hispanics have $35,000 – or a 5 to 1 ratio.
These ratios improve dramatically, dropping to roughly 2 to 1 when Social Security is added in. The white worker has $378,000 in total wealth, compared with $173,000 for blacks and $186,000 for Hispanics.
Social Security’s progressive benefit formula reduces retirement inequality by replacing more of the income of lower-paid workers. The program also provides nearly universal coverage, whereas many workers do not have access to retirement plans at work. These features help black and Hispanic workers, who tend to have lower incomes and are also less likely to have retirement plans.
“Social Security is the most equal form of retirement wealth and the most important source for most minority households,” the researchers conclude. …Learn More
November 7, 2019
A Brighter Future for a Graying Workforce
Perceptions of older workers haven’t caught up with the reality of their increasingly prominent role in the labor force.
The federal Administration for Community Living reports that the U.S. population over age 60 has surged nearly 40 percent in just the past decade. By 2030, retirees will outnumber children for the first time in history, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts. The world population is on a similar path.
But in the face of this significant demographic shift, discriminatory views of older people persist in obvious and subtle ways. This discrimination colors coworkers’ beliefs about, among other things, older workers’ mental ability, efficiency, and competence on the job, according to one international review of studies on aging.
When people think about the future, “they fail to appreciate the potential that older workers present as workers and consumers,” Paul Irving, an expert on aging, writes in a special November edition of the Harvard Business Review exploring issues relevant to our aging workforce.
Research backs him up. Older people are living longer than past generations, which gives them more capacity to extend their work lives. They’re also generally healthier and enjoy more disability-free years, thanks to innovations like cataract surgery to restore their vision.
But ageism’s consequences are still apparent in the workplace. An Urban Institute report said that older workers, for a variety of reasons, are frequently pushed or nudged out of a long-term job at some point late in their careers. Some are forced into early retirement. And for those who do find another job, the new opportunities, while less stressful, are often a step down in terms of prestige and pay.
Irving, who is chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, wants to chart a more hopeful path for our graying U.S. workforce, one that views it as an opportunity – rather than a looming crisis. …Learn More