As Obama meets black leaders, four facts on race and the economy

President Obama met with national African-American leaders Wednesday over economic concerns in the community. Here are four indicators of how African-Americans are faring in the recession.

Larry Downing/Reuters
African American leaders speak to the media after meeting with President Barack Obama and discussing the economy in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Wednesday. From l.-r. are: NAACP chief executive Benjamin Todd Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and National Urban League president Marc Morial.

President Obama met Wednesday with leaders from one large group that has been hit particularly hard by the recession: African Americans.

The meeting put a spotlight on a longstanding economic trouble spot – the persistent gap between blacks and the rest of America. Yet it also comes amid some signs of progress.

African-Americans are feeling more positive about the current economy than are whites, by one measure. A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds that 14 percent of blacks rate the current economy as "excellent or good." That number is little-changed from where it stood before the recession, and well above the 7 percent of white Americans who feel that way.

The president met with four African-American leaders in a closed-to-the-press meeting on jobs and the economy: Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP, Marc Morial of the National Urban League, and the Rev. Al Sharpton of National Action Network.
 Here's a look at how African-Americans are faring in the current economy, on four fronts:

Jobs. The jobless rate of 16.5 percent for blacks is much higher than the national jobless rate of 9.7 percent, as of January. It's astronomically higher for black teens – 43.8 percent – than for white teens, at 23.5 percent. While young people have been hit harder by this recession than previous ones, one longstanding pattern has changed little: African-Americans for decades have had a harder time getting jobs, and the gap with whites has widened because of recessions.

Income. Black household income stood at 61.8 percent of white household income in 2008, according to Census data reported by Pew. That's up from 56.7 percent in 1969, but down from 64.8 percent a decade ago.

Optimism. Perhaps in part because of the election of Mr. Obama, many blacks show increased signs of hope in the Pew poll, released in January and conducted in November. Some 53 percent of blacks now say "the future for blacks will be better," versus 44 percent in 2007. Whether or not he's an important factor behind the mood shift, the current occupant of the White House is considered one of their own for the first time. More than half of blacks identify Obama as "black" (versus more than half of Americans who identify him as "mixed race"). Only 12 percent of blacks say they are worse off than they were five years ago (the lowest percentage found in 10 Pew polls asking the question since 1981). And 39 percent say they are better off, the highest percentage seen in any of those 10 polls.

Housing. Some of the highest foreclosure rates have been seen in communities with large black or Latino populations. The pace of subprime lending often expanded in these areas at just the wrong time, when home values were nearing their peak and soon to turn down. By one measure, blacks have been disproportionately affected by the housing bust, though the impact has been felt across America. The rate of black homeownership has fallen to 46 percent of all households in the final quarter of last year. That's down 2.6 percentage points from its peak in 2006. Homeownership for whites has fallen only 1.8 percentage points, to 67.2 percent of households.


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