VOICES: MLK's dream drained

Brian Miller.jpgBy Brian Miller, New America Media

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a society worthy of the principle inits founding declaration that "all men are created equal." But he didnot live in such a society, and he did not act as if he did. His life'swork was dedicated to bringing the nation closer to that dream. Whilewe have made progress, the dream remains elusive.

Last year, after Barack Obama's historic election, many punditsdeclared that the victory had ushered in a new "post-racial" era. Butjust as the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 60s did not endracism, the election of our first African American president does notcreate a post-racial society.

During his first year in office, President Obama, along with Congress,has governed as though the myth of a post-racial America were true.Faced with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, bothCongress and the president have pursued universal, broad-spectrumsolutions designed to lift up "all Americans."

But a post-racial America and colorblind policies are ideas that can'tstand up to the facts of persistent, and even growing, racial economicdisparities.

As detailed in the newly released "State of The Dream 2010: Drained"report, racial economic inequities have worsened over the last year aspeople of color have taken the brunt of layoffs from this GreatRecession. The unemployment rate for blacks jumped 4.3 percent to thedevastating height of 16.2 percent, while the white unemployment ratestands at 9 percent, up only 2.4 percent by comparison from a yearearlier. And African Americans who are employed still earn less thantheir white counterparts in similar jobs.

Racial disparities of wealth are even more persistent and severe thanincome and employment disparities because unlike most jobs, wealth canbe passed from one generation to the next. So, families and communitiesthat are wealthy tend to stay that way, and those who are not wealthytend to stay that way, too, generation after generation.

Because African Americans hold only 10 cents to every dollar of whitenet wealth, they are less able to cope with the loss of income and jobsthat have come with the Great Recession. Exacerbating the problem, mostof the wealth that is held by African Americans is held in the form ofhousing that has collapsed in value due to the foreclosure crisis andthe predatory lending that fueled it.

It's important that we get the recovery right. The Great Recessionbegan with the collapse of the predatory subprime mortgage market. Ourimmediate policy response was to bail out the banks under the ToxicAsset Relief Program. This did shore up their profits and ensured theoutlandish bonuses of executives, but it failed to bring relief towhere it is needed most.

As more predatory and adjustable rate mortgages reset to higherpayments and joblessness increases over the coming year, more familieswill be forced into foreclosure. Foreclosed properties bring down thevalue of homes near them, further reducing the wealth in communities ofcolor where foreclosure rates are the highest. Many homeowners,regardless of being current on their loan payments, are left owing moreon their mortgage than their home is worth.

Last year's stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,certainly did more to shore up the broader economy than the bankbailout. It did not, however, effectively reach the communities most inneed of recovery and reinvestment. Less stimulus funding has gone toareas with higher rates of unemployment than to areas with more jobs.And the sectors that have benefited most from stimulus money areindustries that have traditionally not been major sources of AfricanAmerican employment.

MLK's dream of racial equality cannot be realized until the economicdivide between races is addressed. The Great Recession and our policyresponses to it have proven once again that we cannot address racialinequity by ignoring it. With colorblind policies, the people in theworst economic position stay that way.

The "State of the Dream" report recommends targeted solutions to endthe foreclosure crisis, to bring jobs to where they are needed most,and to bring opportunity where it is most lacking. Theserecommendations will address the particular plight of AfricanAmericans. Proponents of a post-racial or colorblind society will nodoubt be pleased that these solutions will also raise up all poor andworking class families regardless of race.

Brian Miller is executive director of United for a Fair Economy(UFE), a national non-profit organization working to promote morebroadly shared prosperity and to end extreme inequalities of wealth andincome. Miller is co-author of UFE's new report, along with AjamuDillahunt, Mike Prokosch, Jeannette Huezo, and Dedrick Muhammad,entitled "State of the Dream 2010: Drained - Jobless and Foreclosed inCommunities of Color," available on-line athttp://www.faireconomy.org/dream