By Marc Morial
“The psychological toll of always anticipating that next set back where one unexpected bill, short paycheck, or medical emergency will derail months, maybe years, of plans and praiorities is exhausting. Feeling like you must do more, and expect less, creates a never-ending daily cycle of economic anxiety.” — Shannon Janean Currie, vice president, Benenson Strategy Group
For nearly two decades, as part of the State of Black America report, the National Urban League has produced the Equality Index, a statistical calculation of the social and economic status of African Americans inspired by the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787. The 2022 Index is 73.9%, slightly up from the revised 2020 Index of 73.7%.
This year, for the first time, we decided to find out how Black Americans feel about their status. Conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, the Pulse of Black America survey is based on nearly 1,700 interviews conducted in March of this year.
“If the Equality Index measures the share of the American economic pie Black Americans gets compared to whites, then the Pulse of Black America survey unpacks the feelings and frustrations of Black people who will never get that last slice of pie,” wrote Shannon-Janean Currie, the BSG vice president who conceived of and led the research.
The survey revealed a Black America ravaged by a deadly pandemic and beset by economic despair, yet still optimistic in the promise that “we shall overcome.”
The survey confirmed the findings of the Equality Index: When it comes to education, income, occupation, housing, and debt load, Black Americans are at a disadvantage. Only 27% of Black survey respondents had attained a college education, compared to 37% of white respondents. Fewer than half as many Black respondents — 12% —reported earning more than $100,000 annually, versus 27% for whites. The Black homeownership rate was a little more than half the white rate: 33% compared to 62%.
The survey found that Black and white Americans differ in their views about these economic disparities. A majority of Black respondents, 57%, agreed with the statement, “Wealth inequality between Black and white Americans is a cycle that creates never-ending economic disparity, no matter how hard individual people work.” But an even larger majority of white respondents, 71%, agreed with the statement, “Wealth inequality between Black and white Americans can be overcome, but it’s up to individual people to change their circumstances.”
But Black Americans are frustrated about their ability to change their circumstances. Majorities are worried about being paid less, passed over, having to work harder for the same amount, and being discriminated against because of their race. While a plurality of Black respondents, 47%, felt that the professional opportunities they receive have nothing to do with race, nearly as many — 41% — said they received fewer professional opportunities because of their race or ethnicity.
Black Americans feel the sting of racism even more sharply in the health care system. An overwhelming 8 in 10 Black respondents feel that race influences the quality of care a person receives, and 2 in 5 said the system had discriminated against them personally.
When it comes to the heart of this year’s State of Black America report, voting and democracy, overwhelming majorities believe in the power of their vote to make a difference in economic opportunity, social and racial justice, and police violence. But nearly as many — 71% — believe that Black and brown communities specifically are often denied the right to vote. Only 45% of Black respondents said voting in their communities is very easy, compared to 59% of white respondents. And Black respondents said the government is doing more to limit voting rights than it is to protect them.
“Fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement and ten years since the murder of Trayvon Martin, the real promise of equity has yet to be fulfilled, and young Blacks are growing frustrated with the rate of change,” Curry wrote. “Beliefs and behaviors are hard to shift, and while progress has been made, the biases of today manifest in more subtle forms of systemic suppression.
“Pragmatic and hopeful, hardworking and vulnerable, the complexities of Black pain and Black pride define the Black experience.”
The full survey, along with the rest of the 2022 State of Black America report, “Under Siege: The Plot to Destroy Democracy,” can be found at www.StateOfBlackAmerica.org
Marc Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.