Today, the public will get a look at how funds distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are being spent when the reports from agencies receiving these stimulus funds are released.
While many questions will surround the release of this information, it’s likely that a critical part of this story will be lost unless we ask the right questions about this spending. Namely, is this stimulus really creating a recovery for everyone?
This is an important consideration given that many groups of Americans have consistently been left behind in ways that hard work and personal achievement alone cannot address. This was true even before the economic downturn began to affect everyone else, and it’s likely that the crisis has further worsened gaps in income and assets that existed already.
To get an idea of what some Americans faced before the crisis, just look at 2007, the year before the crisis began affecting everyone:
- Of those living in poverty, 10.9% worked year-round, full-time;
- The African American male unemployment rate (11.4%) was more than twice as high as the white male unemployment rate (5.5%), and the Latino male unemployment rate was also much higher (7.6%); and
- Women made only 78.2% the median income of men, African Americans only 75.2% of whites, and Latinos only 72.6% of whites.
These are just a few examples of the unequal reality many communities faced back when some felt we were all riding high. The economy these statistics illustrate, though, is not exactly a portrait of the American Dream in action, and it’s not the kind of economy to which the stimulus money should be returning us.
This past September, the economic outlook remained dismal. Jobs were scarce—as of September 2009, 15.1 million people in the U.S. were unemployed, putting the overall unemployment rate at 9.8%, which was 0.1 percentage points higher than August’s rate. And, consistent with the racial unemployment gap in 2007, communities of color were again hit the hardest. The unemployment rate for African Americans, 15.4%, was 71% higher than the unemployment rate for whites, whose rate was 9.0%. The rate for Latinos was also disproportionately high, at 12.7%, even though it had declined 0.3% since August. Approximately, 10 months later with the first round of reporting being released today, it’s important to consider that we still have a ways to go to improve the state of opportunity.
With thoughtful investments—such as expanding skill-building job training, investing in education, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure—we can both restore consumer confidence and help struggling folks to catch their stride. Such investments would not only address the country’s short-term woes but also invest in our long-term strength.
Some will say we have to concentrate on stabilizing the economy first, and address the challenges described here second. But that simply won’t work. We need to have trained and ready workers at all levels of our workforce; we need to ensure that all communities experience investment and growth; and we need to protect all consumers from the kinds of financial products that have destabilized our economy in the first place. We are all part of a greater whole – both economically and morally. Overlooking struggling communities won’t work, but it also is simply wrong to allow the inequalities our economy has perpetuated to continue.
So our goal for recovery has to be bigger than turning back the clock to 2007. If we ask the right questions now, and make the right investments, we have a real shot at a future in which American opportunity is within reach of everyone here.
A special thanks to Meredith King Ledford for her assistance in conducting this research.