From wealth to diversity, our editors offer an action plan

It’s true we’ve seen major advances over the course of 35 years, with more successful, educated, and accomplished black entrepreneurs and corporate professionals than at any other time in history. The black investor class continues to grow. And we’ve seen the ascension of African Americans to power positions such as secretary of state and CEO of some of the world’s largest corporations — achievements once unattainable.

But despite these pockets of prosperity, a gulf as wide as the Panama Canal between blacks and whites persists on a number of fronts. And the schism between wealthy African Americans and poverty-stricken blacks has expanded as well, creating the equivalent of an economic barbell.

The most glaring disparity is the wealth gap between blacks and other groups. According to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., which analyzed U.S. Census data after the last recession, white households had a median net worth of $88,651, while the median net worth of black households was $5,988. Blacks also lagged behind Hispanics, who had a median net worth of $7,932. In short, the wealth of black households was not even one-tenth that of white households because of low homeownership rates and lack of financial assets.

The unemployment rate for blacks is more than twice that of whites and about 40% higher than that of Hispanics. For May 2005, the black unemployment rate was 10.1%, compared to 4.4% for whites and 6% for Latinos. In 1970, the year this magazine began publishing, the unemployment rate for blacks was still twice that of whites, but it hovered around 8.7% — and that was during a recession.

Despite an increase in entrepreneurship — The Milken Institute, in Santa Monica, California, found that minority firms were growing at a rate of 17% a year — blacks still have a tougher time acquiring capital to grow their businesses than other groups. A 2001 study by the state of Maryland revealed that the loan denial rate for African American businesses was 27.1% greater than that for white-owned companies and, when financing was approved, black firms paid a higher interest rate than white businesses.

The condition of black health is, in a word, sickly. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the years of potential life loss of blacks before the age of 75 as a result of a stroke was double that of other races. Medical researchers also reported that the one-year death rate for blacks after hospitalization for heart attack is 1.7 times higher than whites, and death rates for diabetics are 27% greater for blacks than for whites.

If these figures alarm you, they should. Overall, African Americans fall behind every other group in measurements of economic advancement and financial success. Simply stated, blacks, as a group, have yet to become full participants in the American Dream.

In examining research data and our recent readers’ survey, our editors grappled with this issue. We strongly believe that in order for African