Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine profiles a multi-generation black family to trace “the fall of the black middle class.” Their ladder up the economic scale was the auto industry, and it’s been pulled out from under them.
This is a story that’s being replicated throughout the Detroit area. But a new report from Demos tells us that it’s only the latest chapter in a longer, broader downslide for black and Latino middle-class families.
The downslide here isn’t in employment rates. It’s in economic security–a combination of factors that enable families to remain financially stable and recover from setbacks. These factors include education, housing costs, health insurance, household budget and assets.
Even before the recession, black and Latino middle-class families were less likely than others to be economically secure. And more of them were sliding toward potential poverty. Between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of black families that were economically secure fell from 26% to 16%. For Latino families, the drop was from 23% to 12%.
Demos singles out three principal factors in the declining stability of black and Latino middle-class families–loss of health insurance, rising housing costs and declining assets.
Yet the story here isn’t only about certain minority groups. For middle-class families overall, the percentage that were economically secure dropped from 29% to 24%. In other words, 76% of middle-class families were at the edge of a cliff when the recession set in.
Demos calls for policies that will strengthen the middle class as a whole–policies that address the housing and health care crises and help families build assets and reduce debt.
But we surely also need to strengthen the safety net. Because it’s quite clear that most middle-class families–not to mention poor families–don’t have the wherewithal to manage a job loss or any other further pressure on their resources.