Thursday, June 28, 2012

“…With Liberty and Justice for All?”

Income and employment data still reflect significant racial disparity.  This year’s 147th anniversary celebration of Juneteenth offers an ideal backdrop for considering these challenging economic conditions.  Juneteenth commemorates the exceptionalism of American liberty, by celebrating the extension of freedom for historically disenfranchised communities, including Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans. While the country has made significant gains since President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in1863, vestiges of slavery and second class citizenship still abound, particularly in regard to income and employment.  “Liberty and justice for all,” while a rallying cry of American freedom, still remains elusive to some.  The following data illustrates the continuing disparity within labor force participation, household income, and socio-economic standing across Colorado’s racial and ethnic demography.  

Labor Force Presence (2011):
Nationwide Americans participated in the labor force at a rate of 64 percent in 2011, the lowest participation rate in over a decade. (Figure 5)  Colorado’s own labor force participation remains above the national average at 70 percent, with African Americans in Colorado participating at nearly the same rate as Asians and 5 percent lower than white Americans. (Figure 9) Meanwhile Hispanics participate competitively at a rate of 69 percent, 3 percentage points higher than Asians and a percentage point below whites. (Figure 9)

Employment Disparity (2011):
Because of the Great Recession, many people have struggled to find full-time employment and so have temporarily settled for part-time positions.  Among part-time workers Hispanics are more likely to be involuntarily employed part time, while whites are half as likely as Hispanics to be involuntarily employed part time. (Figure 14) In fact both Hispanics and African Americans are underemployed and unemployed almost twice as much as whites. (Figure 18) 

Income Disparity:
Minority populations’ income also reflects racial disparity. In Colorado Black Americans earn 67 percent of the income that their white counterparts earn. (Figure 31) Comparatively, Hispanics and American Indians earn (respectively) 62 percent and 57 percent of the income that white Americans earn. 

Poverty Post-Recession:
Considering the degree of labor and income inequity in Colorado, it comes as no surprise that from 2000-2010 the number of  Colorado children living in poverty increased by 201 percent (according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey).  Now, it is important to mention that despite this significant increase, Colorado’s poverty rate is actually below the national average of 15 percent. (Figure 37)  In fact, the Foundation on Child Development identifies youth under 18 years of age as the largest demographic of America’s poor.1 Worse still, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians in Colorado are nearly 3 times as likely as whites to be living under the federal poverty level (at $11,344 for singles and $22,113 for a family of four).  (Figure 42)  

While each successive anniversary of Juneteenth has seen socio-economic improvement for Black Americans and other historically disenfranchised communities, the data shows that minority populations still suffer disproportionately from poverty, income disparity, and social inequity.  Yet, as Juneteenth celebrations wrap up, we cannot help but be hopeful that the promise of today’s youth will birth tomorrow’s progress. 

For more information regarding ethnic and racial inequity in Colorado, see our report: The State of Working Colorado 2012.

By: Uloma Chiakpo
EARN Intern

1The Colorado Children’s Campaign,  2011 Kids Count in Colorado, (2011), 8 <>

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