Here's some good news and bad news about the economy. The good news is, the median American household income is up, the highest it’s been since pre-recession 2007. The bad news? Not surprisingly, not all American households are created equal. Despite the growing trend of prosperity among family groups and a (somewhat disputed) wave of general economic growth since the end of the recession, the gains have not been distributed fairly to black Americans. In fact, the wage gap is growing between black and whiteAmericans, and today, the gap is the widest it's been in 40 years.
A new Federal Reserve report illuminates this depressing fact. Despite a supposedly more enlightened and inclusive society than we saw in the 1970s, the economic situation in black households has worsened:
In 1979, the average black man in America earned about 80% of the average white man ($15 versus $19 per hour). By 2016, this gap had grown such that the average black male worker earned just 70% of the hourly wage of the average white male worker.
For women, the figures are equally troubling:
In 1979, the average black woman earned about 95% of the average white woman. But nearly continuous divergence in earnings since that time has opened a more sizable gap; in 2016, the average black woman earned about 82% of what the average white woman earned.
This is confirmed alongside historical data showing black Americans have a higher unemployment rate than white Americans. Report authors cite discrimination and educational inequity that cause segregation as likely reasons.
This report coincides with President Trump’s insistence on reversing all Obama policies that sought to remedy the likely easiest-to-control factor in the national wage gap: discrimination. In August, Trump halted a rule requiring businesses to track and report how much they pay workers, including employee demographics on race and gender. In March, he revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, another Obama rule that helped monitor federal contractors to ensure they treated employees humanely. Now both rules are gone. And as the Federal Reserve report states explicitly, this pay gap problem won’t go away on its own without government action to reverse it. Under a Trump presidency determined to halt Obama-era advances, and a GOP-controlled Congress that wants to focus its energy on revoking health care for the poor and cutting taxes for the rich, all signs point to this scary trend getting worse unless a new wave of political leaders takes the helm of this sinking ship of progress.
Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.