In October 2013, late-night PBS talk-show host and author Tavis Smiley told Sean Hannity at Fox News that "The data is going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category."
On Monday, on the eve of what has been said to be President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, Smiley was again on Fox News, this time with Megyn Kelly. Sadly, 27 months later, his message hasn't changed, nor has its fundamental truth.
Transcript (beginning at 0:07; bolds are mine throughout this post):
MEGYN KELLY: But on the subject of race, do you think — are we, are we better off today that seven years ago?
TAVIS SMILEY: I’m not sure that we are, and I think ultimately the president missed a moment. What we try to lay out in this book, The Covenant with Black America: Ten Years Later, is that on every leading economic issue, on the major economic issues, Black Americans have lost ground in every one of those leading categories. So for the last ten years it's not been good for black folk. And so, this is the president’s most loyal constituency that didn’t gain, gain any ground really in that period.
Now, the debate's going to be for years to come whether or not he wasn't bold enough, or whether or not he was obstructed. And I think that the answer is both. And historians are going to having a field day trying to juxtapose how in the era of the first black president, the bottom fell out for Black America. Black were still in many ways politically marginalized, socially manipulated, and economically exploited.
That's a lot to try to square how all that happened in the era of the first black president. But to be sure, he had a headwind like no president's ever had.
The "10 years later" time frame in Smiley's latest book is there because it follows up on the original 2006 release of The Covenant with Black America. That's fine, but one hopes that Smiley understands and acknowledges that the seven-year changes from 2008 to 2014 — that is, beginning with the year after the Democratc Party took control of Congress plus the Obama administration's first six years — are far more telling and relevant.
Let's look at just one key item, real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) median household income (Source: the Census Bureau's Income and Poverty in the United States, 2014):
The 8.6 percent decline seen in the above table has not been nearly as severe among other racial groups, and is consistent with what the Census Bureau alums at Sentier Research found in looking at household income in the five years after the recession officially ended in June 2009 (Page 4 at link):
June 2009 to June 2014: The median income for households with a Black householder (not Hispanic) declined by 7.7 percent, from $38,384 to $35,416. Median income for households with a White householder (not Hispanic) declined by 2.6 percent, from $61,365 to $59,754. The apparent decline in median income of 1.0 percent for households with a householder of other race combinations (not Hispanic), from $61,920 to $61,289, was not statistically significant. This category, which includes Asians, is a relatively high-income group. Households with an Hispanic householder experienced a decline in their median income of 5.6 percent, from $43,807 to $41,358.
In late December, Sentier reported that finally, after eight long years, overall median household income is back to its pre-recession peak:
According to new data derived from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS), median annual household income in November 2015 was $56,746, recapturing all of the ground lost since the beginning of the last recession in December 2007 ($56,714).
Unless one believes that black median household income somehow rose by 9.4 percent in the 17 months from June 2014 to November 2015 (what it would take to fully reverse an 8.6 percent decline), it's quite obvious that while overall household incomes have recovered, black median houshold incomes have not.
It's refreshing to see Tavis Smiley re-recognize the damage that has been done to black household economic well-being, and to re-acknowledge that "Black Americans have lost ground." It would be even better if he would note that the 10-year time frame in his book includes two years of slight improvement followed by eight years of the "bottom falling out." Barring a sea change in economic policy, that will ultimately become nine miserable years by the time President Obama leaves office.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.