African-American Women Hit Hardest By Income Inequality

In the past year, income inequality has hit African American women the hardest.

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One theme President Obama's State of the Union Address will cover tonight is income inequality.  That widening chasm between the wealthy and middle-class: a divide that has been a boon to nation's top earners, and bust for everyone else.

Since 2007, the 1 percent captured 95 percent of the income gains. They earn a median salary of $1.2 million per year, and have an average net worth of $16.4 million. The middle class saw only a 20 percent growth in their incomes. Their 2013 median income was $53,000, but their net worth dropped from a high of $75,000 in 1983 to $55,000 today.

Income inequality has hit African-American women the hardest. Their 2013 median income was $25,000, and for the past year their unemployment rate has oscillated between 11 and 12 percent.  As much as many in the right wing cry reverse racism to the point of delusion, institutionalized racism limits the economic opportunities available to African-American women.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It's certainly rare for them to make it in corporate America. Granted, Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, and Rosalind Brewer, the president and CEO of Sam's Club, made it to the top, but black businesswomen as a whole are held back by negative racial stereotypes and bias. They make up only 1 percent of U.S. corporate officers, despite affirmative action and diversity programs, and many are leaving for other careers because their career growth is bleak.

African-American women fair even worse in politics; only Illinois Democrat Carol Moseley Braun served in the U.S. Senate, and the 113th Congress includes just 14 black female representatives. Democrats are not doing enough to recruit African-American women, and Republicans have no interest at all. Their Growth and Opportunity project, a plan they released last year talked at length about doing more to recruit minority candidates. But since then, Republicans have focused on race baiting, illustrated most recently by Sarah Palin's Facebook post calling on President Obama to stop playing the race card, and Newt Gingrich's disparaging words about poor blacks on the 2012 campaign trail.

We'll have to see what economic proposals the president offers up tonight to help African-American women. If he does, don't expect any of them to materialize. Two decades of wealthy-friendly Republican policies are responsible for of the decline of the middle class. The GOP won't jeopardize the millions of dollars of campaign donations they'll get this year in reward for helping maintain the status quo.

This post was coauthored with Skylar Young, a law student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law.

  • Read Robert Schlesinger: State of the Union Address 2014: Trivia, History, Firsts and Facts
  • Read Charles Wheelan: 3 Big Things Obama Should Talk About in the State of the Union
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