Personal Finance: Blacks and the federal budget

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 3:13 PM

I often wonder what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would say about the economic state of black America. Would he see progress? Or would he be disappointed at how far African Americans still have to go?

The unemployment rate for blacks is 15.6 percent, compared with 9 percent for the country overall. Blacks earn only 57 cents for each dollar of white median family income. And more than 8 percent of blacks have lost homes to foreclosure so far compared with 4.5 percent of whites.

Post columnist Courtland Milloy has an answer to the economic challenges blacks face.

"Spread out, black people; scatter, if you can," Milloy wrote recently. "Maybe it's better to rent in an integrated neighborhood, with good schools and more job opportunities, than to own in a black one where property values aren't going to rise that much and may vanish altogether if your neighbor goes into foreclosure."

Some blacks have moved to better their situation.

"The 60-year escape from segregation and racism that brought American blacks to the North, has reversed course. Better jobs and quality of life in the South are beckoning," the Associated Press reported recently.

The nation's black population has grown by roughly 1.7 million over the last decade. About 75 percent of that growth occurred in the South -- primarily metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Charlotte, N.C.

As Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, told the AP: "It's no coincidence that the shift is happening as we encounter economic turmoil that is being felt disproportionately among blacks, such as mortgage foreclosures, loss of jobs and economic devastation in major Northern hubs."

But whether they stay or go, there are tough times ahead for many blacks if the budget cuts President Obama recently proposed are passed, according to several black leaders.

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, host of the radio program "Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon" and a teaching associate at Howard University, wrote on The Grio: "Understanding that the president's submission is the first salvo in a long budget battle many are asking why start with such steep cuts to much needed social programs. Why start the negotiation process with programs that represent such a small fraction of the federal budget and will disproportionately impact African-Americans?"

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also criticized the proposed budget cuts.

"Rebuilding our economy on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is something that I simply can not accept," Cleaver said in a statement. "For example, the President's recommendations to slash Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding that ensures economic growth in our communities is troubling. Moreover, the recommendations to consolidate programs in the Department of Education that overwhelmingly support the educational development of our children, and to freeze salaries of federal workers who in many instances--in communities of color--are disproportionately the primary bread winners in their homes is equally problematic."

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