Trump's run for the White House has only expanded the size of the can. And while that's the reality that any one paying even scant attention to the 2016 election should by now know, Trump's comments have, with increasing frequency, been the subject of criticism in recent weeks. And with that in mind, Americans should take a look at something Mother Jones pulled from the broadcast archives. You can and should take a look at their write-up about Trump's comments here.
In 1989, Trump told Americans watching an NBC News special on race that if he had to do it over again, he would like to get a start in the business world as "an educated black." Yes, he really said just that. Watch the video below.
It's hard to say what Trump knew or what fantasy notion of black life in America he had. In New York alone that very year, a black man had been shot and killed by a white mob for no reason other than that the victim had the temerity to enter an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. In 1986 in New York, another black man was chased and beaten to death by a different white mob for much the same reason. It is doubtful that had someone in these mobs somehow known the résumés of the men killed that they would have thought, "Oh wait, this here is a well-educated black."
In fact, it's quite hard in any objective way to figure out on what Trump's fantasy was based:
- In 1989, the median life expectancy at birth for all Americans was 75.1 years and for all men, 71.7 years. For white men, that figure was 72.5 years. For black men, it was 64.3 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
- That same year, median white household wealth — that's cash and other assets minus debt — sat just above $100,000, while median black household wealth sat at just under $10,000, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
- The median white household income was $41,922, while the median black household income was $23,550, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. A census analysis produced a larger disparity. From a story published in 1992 in the New York Times: "Nationally, the 1989 median household income was $31,435 for whites and $19,758 for blacks. Put another way, a black household typically brought in 63 cents for every $1 that went to a white household. In 1979, it was 62 cents for every $1." You can get a look at what that meant in real dollars — after accounting for inflation — by clicking here.
- And then, there was the job market. In 1989, when Trump's comments aired on NBC, Trump may or may not have been aware that the average seasonal unemployment rate for white men that year sat at 4.1 percent and for black men at 8.55 percent, according to data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, that's a long-standing pattern. For more than 50 years, black unemployment has been at least twice that of white unemployment at all times.
(And before anyone goes presuming that this is some kind of data evidence of a lax black work ethic, know this: Unemployment is a less-than-perfect monthly economic indicator that takes its share of sound critiques and sits at the center of too many conspiracy theories to count. But it is a measure of the share of people actively seeking work but unable to find it within the previous four weeks. In this case, the data above is an average of 12 four-week reporting periods. So, it gives us a picture of unemployment over the course of 1989 and a reasonable sense of what black and white men were experiencing in the job market.)
Some might say, "Well, that was then." Not so fast. Here are the latest numbers:
- In 2014, the median life expectancy for all Americans at birth sat at 78.8 years. For whites, that figure was 76.7 years and for black men, 72.5 years.
- White household median wealth sat around $141,900 in 2013. That same year, for black households that figure was $11,000.
- In 2014, white median household income sat at $60,256, while the median black household income was $35,398.
- The seasonally adjusted share of white workers who have in the first five months of this year been unemployed sits at 4.26 percent, while for black men that figure is 8.72 percent. And if you would like a full-year comparison, here it is: In 2015, the average white annual unemployment rate was 4.58 percent, while for black Americans that figure was 10.3 percent.
Of course, Trump didn't just say he wanted to be a black man; he said he wanted to be "an educated black." Well here is more sobering news: Education helps but does not erase these gaps, indicating that good old-fashioned discrimination and its modern manifestations continue to shape Americans' lives.
We know because we took a look at available data detailing the status of black and white Americans with college degrees. Admittedly, this data is more limited than the series described above. But here's what we can say:
- In 2014, there were significant, and we do mean significant, disparities in the median weekly earnings of salaried or full-time white and black workers with college degrees. White workers with college degrees in this group earned $1,219 a week, compared with the $970 black workers took home. And this same pattern continues for workers with master's degrees, professional degrees and PhDs. Over the course of a year, that translates to $2,988 between black and white workers with college degrees. The numbers just get bigger for those with more education. Further, white full-time or salaried workers with only a high school diploma earned more (a median of $696 each week) than black workers with some college education (a median of $637). Click here.
- In 2013, the St. Louis Fed's analysts found that households with a white college-educated worker lived on a median income of $94,351 a year, while similar black households lived on $52,147. That same study found that in 2013, median wealth for white families with a college-educated white worker sat at $359,928, compared with the median $32,780 in wealth held by black households with at least one college-educated worker.
- And unemployment does not tell a different story. When you focus on college-educated workers, an analysis of unemployment released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in November 2015 found that in the preceding 12 months, white college-educated workers experienced a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, while their black peers had a 4.2 percent unemployment rate during that same period. If you are bound and determined to find a bright spot, this is about as good as it gets: This is the one group of workers where the gap between black and white unemployment falls just short of the two-times-or-larger pattern mentioned above.
In measures as critical as longevity, the gaps are narrowing, but that's largely because white longevity is declining (particularly among whites with a high school education or less, and longevity is climbing among blacks with more education). It's also worth noting that apparently many doctors believe that black Americans are less sensitive to pain and as a result are more stingy with pain medication when treating black patients as well as other forms of health care than they are when treating white patients. And those assumptions about pain, well, they apparently apply to kids, too. This is, unfortunately, the contributing factor to health disparities that rarely gets much attention but is very real.
So there's not a lot of cause for jubilation here either.
Finally, those who believe that the differences highlighted above can be explained by a drive toward entrepreneurship or lack thereof, please note that multiple studies have found substantial differences in the amount that white and black business owners were (and remain) able to borrow. Black businesses were able to borrow less money and often charged a higher interest rate for those funds. And when we say multiple, we do mean multiple assessments of lending data and business owners. What's more, a very similar pattern persists in the mortgage lending market, which remains a major contributor to the racial wealth gap.
There are often-unspoken truths in America about race, opportunity, wealth and income. Here's a hint: They are not anything close to what Trump expressed. That was not true in 1989; it is not true today.
It's really no wonder that Spike Lee, another of the celebrity guests on the NBC program, described Trump's assessment as "garbage."