Blacks were worse off financially in 2016 than they were in 2000.
The median income for a black household was $39,490 last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week. It was $41,363 in 2000. (Both figures are in 2016 dollars and have been adjusted for inflation).
Blacks are the only racial group the Census Bureau identifies that has been left behind. White, Asian and Hispanic households all have seen at least modest income gains since 2000.
The uptick in incomes for so many Americans helped lift the overall median U.S. household income to $59,039 last year, the highest level ever recorded by the Census Bureau. That figure surpassed the previous record set in 1999, during the last period of strong economic growth.
Median household income means half of U.S. households earn more and half earn less. It’s an important indicator of the health of the middle class.
But the overall trend masks the fact that blacks, as a group, have not recovered.
Black Americans have struggled for years to move up the economic ladder. They have a harder time finding jobs. Merely having an “African-American sounding name” makes an employer less likely to hire someone, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found.
The black unemployment rate is nearly double the white unemployment rate. It’s been that way since the Labor Department began keeping track of unemployment by race in the early 1970s. Black Americans also receive substantially lower wages than whites and Asians.
“Character, talent and insight are evident in individuals from all income classes. But not all individuals get an equal chance to prove their mettle,” said Mary Coleman, senior vice president of Economic Mobility Pathways, a Boston-based not-for-profit group.
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The small silver lining in the latest census data is that income for blacks grew nearly six percent last year, the most of any racial group. But it’s not moving quickly enough to do much to close the vast income gap between blacks and other groups.