By Nathan Jones
Disparities in wage earnings for African-Americans and Latinos as juxtaposed to white Americans have always existed in the USA. Records show that in January 2012, black unemployment dropped to 13.6% in comparison with white unemployment at 7.4% and unemployment for Latinos at 10.5%. What does this mean? It means that many Americans are in dire straits and the racial economic discrepancies have not changed where employment and earning power is concerned. There is no level playing field where these ethnic groups matter.
Christian Weller, a co-author of “The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy” outlines two outcomes of this disparity – “minorities continue to lag behind Whites in homeownership … while reporting higher rates of foreclosures”. Even as the “Great Recession” has affected more Americans than since the Great Depression, it [has] disproportionately ravished communities of colors, creating a chasm for an already weakening middle class that began in 2001 well before the 2008 “Great Recession” kicked into overdrive. And although the African-American and Latino populations are suffering collectively, the youth in both ethnic groups are feeling the squeeze of the recession as well. What’s disheartening is that 40% of African-American youth and 30% of Hispanic youth are solidly unemployed with no rescue or recourse to improve their situation. Despite the struggle to manage the onslaught of uncertainty, there are individuals, although faced with pressing money woes, which are still managing to survive the pressures of the changing economy.
Mr. Thomas is 61, near retirement, has faced a series of financial setbacks since the start of 2009. The recession has taken its toll on him and his wife. His wife is a realtor and he is a schoolteacher at a private institution, with a middle class income. They have enjoyed a comfortable middle class lifestyle and ownership of a home until the housing market collapsed. Due to a slow down in the selling and purchasing of homes, Mrs. Thomas commissions dried-up. They no longer made enough to sustain a comfortable middle class life style. Suddenly, one half of the household income has halted. The Thomas’s found themselves in a financial crisis and behind in their mortgage; as a result, their home was foreclosed. They are now scrambling to just make ends meet on Mr. Thomas’ teacher salary. The question is, how are they managing to survive in this economy on a single salary?
A Candid Conversation with Mr. Thomas
Q: How did you get to this stage in your life?
A: Apparently, we did not prepare for this recession. And, frankly during the time my wife was selling homes, the market seemed o.k.
Q: Do you regret not being more aware of the possible consequences of your decision regarding the housing market?
A: Yes. If I could do it over again, I would have made other choices, career and home wise. But, as it stands, nobody can predict the future. It could be worse, but we are still blessed to have one source of income at the moment.
Q: Now that you are no longer comfortably middle class, what are you doing to change your situation?
A: I am working various odd jobs to make ends meet. It is not an easy way to live, considering my age. I am praying daily that my wife can get back on her feet, so I can stop working odd jobs to supplement our income.
Q: How do you see your future these days?
A: It doesn’t look as promising as I would have predicted. I have faith that the economy will turn itself around. Things will eventually work out, I suspect.
Q: Since loosing your home, have you found a new place to live?
A: Yes. We have found a two-bed room and two-bathroom apartment.
Q: What can you do to improve your situation?
A: I must remain optimistic, work smarter to maintain a comfortable what we do have, and take it one day at time.
Q: Do you feel different about not being middle class anymore?
A: It hurts. It hurts tremendously when I think about the uncertainty of it all. But more importantly, I become angry when I think about the changes and transitions I have endured.
Mr. Thomas seems to have made a positive transition, but the reality is, it is difficult living on a teacher’s income. We will continue with more interviews as we follow people who have been affected by the unpredictability of the “Great Recession”. Remember, poor people are depressed and rich people are recessed.