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Economists, Scholars Discuss Disparities and Race

Barrington M. Salmon | 2/13/2013, 2:09 p.m.

Varied Solutions on Summit Agenda

About two dozen economists, academics and other scholars spent the day laying out an often dismal picture of the economic stressors that push and pull against African Americans, Latinos and Asians on a daily basis.

But rather than just laying out a litany of problems, the group, in a series of presentations, offered varied prescriptions for reversing the vast disparities between people of color and their white counterparts in the United States.

Speaker after speaker gave voice to the institutional racism that consigns disturbing numbers of non-whites to high levels of unemployment, a widening wealth gap, educational disparities and economic distress that bodes ill not just for these respective communities but America as a whole.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2012, white households had incomes that are two-thirds higher than blacks and 40 percent higher than Latinos. White adults are also more likely than black and Latino adults to have college degrees and to own their own homes. The gap in poverty rates has narrowed since 1980 but it remains substantial. The poverty rate for whites is 7.7 percent. The rate stands at about 24 percent for blacks and 21 percent for Latinos.

The speakers said there is continued urgency around finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems facing African Americans. Blacks have been battered by the recession, and have not fully benefited from the fragile economic recovery. Unemployment is significantly higher than the national figure and income inequality and a widening wealth gap threatens to consign blacks and Latinos community to a permanent underclass.

"Black people have been denied the opportunity to earn income, get higher incomes and advance in those jobs," said renowned Economist Bernard E. Anderson during the Fourth Annual African American Economic Summit, sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, at Howard University on Feb. 1. "One of the reasons discrimination is so high is because so many blacks with education and training are denied access."

"There are notable disparities in employment for African Americans and whites who have similar educational levels and the reasons for that is substantial discrimination."

Anderson, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said the unemployment rates between blacks and whites with a college education was narrowing until the recession that began in 2007 started to ravage the United States. But as the country has recovered, that gap has not narrowed.

"Until we fight this head on, we'll continue to have these problems. I think we need to not let the president off the hook," Anderson said of President Barack Obama. "Black people are smart. They gave him a pass during the first term. But he's not going to run again for anything. He must find a voice and summon up the courage and use his political capital to fight against racism."

Anderson, chairman of the National Urban League Council of Economic Advisors, said he remembers taking a day off from the Pentagon 50 years ago, to attend the March on Washington.