African Americans may find themselves in the middle of a potentially devastating financial squeeze play, disproportionately pressed from one side by foreclosures tied to the ongoing U.S. mortgage crisis and constricted on the other by growing government demands for concessions from Black-heavy public employee unions.
As governors and legislatures from Wisconsin to Indiana and Ohio continue to focus on fewer public-sector employees as the centerpiece of plans to slash the cost of government services, the upshot could be more downsized Black employees with no regular income to pay mortgages that already may be in danger of foreclosure.
According to Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist with the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, about 14.5 percent of all public-sector workers in the United States are African-American, which ranks that sector second only to health and education services in terms of a workforce that is heavily Black. More than one in five Black workers is employed in public administration in particular, either on a local, state or federal level.
An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report released last year added credence to those figures, showing that 18 percent of people employed by the federal government in 2009 were African-American. A separate report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released earlier this year disclosed that Black workers also were more likely to be union members than Whites, Asians or Hispanics.
Asked about the potential impact of widespread cutbacks in the number of workers employed in the public sector, Pitts said “the danger is that it would have a disproportionate effect on Black workers.”
At the same time, African Americans find themselves bearing an unequal burden in what has become a prolonged national crisis in mortgage foreclosures. Research published last year by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) in Washington, D.C., revealed that Blacks and Latinos are nearly 75 percent more likely to experience foreclosure than Whites.
A separate study published last fall by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs went so far as to call the foreclosure mess “a highly radicalized process.”
Researchers Jacob Rugh and Douglas Massey contended that segregation created a unique bloc of minority clients who were differentially sold risky subprime loans. According to Rugh and Massey, the outcome of the crisis “was not simply a result of neutral market forces, but was structured on the basis of race and ethnicity through the social fact of residential segregation.”
“Ultimately,” they concluded, “the racialization of America’s foreclosure crisis occurred because of a systematic failure to enforce basic civil rights laws.”
Reaffirming that the mortgage foreclosure problem continues to have a disproportionate impact on Blacks and Hispanics, Kathleen Day, a spokesperson for the CRL, added: “To the extent that someone loses their job, they can’t pay their mortgage. That compounds the problem even more.”
Doug Miller is a former director of internal communications for Citigroup and has written extensively about the use of technology in financial services.