Tough Economy Begets Hunger, Poverty Issues for Blacks

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While the ongoing economic downturn has impacted everything—and almost everybody—from Wall Street to Main Street, it has also led to a surge in hunger in African-American communities.

The unemployment rate for Blacks now exceeds 16 percent, when just two years ago it was 8.3 percent. But since that time, some 900,000 jobs have been lost among Blacks. According to one organization that focuses on world hunger, the loss of those jobs has led to a growing inability of many Black families to put food on their table.

In a new report commissioned by the Washington, D.C. nonprofit Bread for the World, one in four Black households are having difficulty feeding their families. In addition, African-American children are experiencing hunger at a greater rate than their adult counterparts.

“The recession has set African-Americans back quite substantially, [with them being] disproportionately affected during the recession in terms of job losses,” Bread for the World Director Asma Lateef said during a recent media teleconference.

“A job is the best anti-hunger program,” Lateef said. “One of the best investments the United States can make in the African-American community is to create green jobs which will help jumpstart the manufacturing and construction sectors. “

But Lateef said African-Americans tend to be less equipped to deal with the recession because they have less opportunities to build up savings and assets during better times. For instance, Lateef said 48 percent of Blacks own their homes, compared to 68 percent for the general population. She said the lack of education is also a major deterrent to economic prosperity.

“Adults without a high school diploma are three times [more] likely to be unemployed,” Lateef said.

Lateef was joined in the teleconference by the Right Rev. Don Williams, head of African-American church relations for the group. Williams said the current economic times present a great opportunity for the Black church to step up to a leadership role and ask Congress to strengthen tax credits such as the Earned Income Credit. That credit is the basic tax-refund credit given to individuals with dependents.

“[The Earned Income Credit] is the one instrument that helped bring more than 5 million families out of poverty,” Williams said. He said his organization has already enlisted 57 religious denominations that have committed to bring up the issue of tax credits to Congress this year.

Williams said that increased rates of hunger and poverty will continue to weigh heavily on the Black community for years to come, particularly its children.

“Poverty among African-American children is especially alarming,” Williams said. “It would hardly be an overstatement to say an entire generation is at risk of being set back due to the current recession.”