by Max Brantley
Interesting article today in the Times on how the economic downturn has had a disproportionate impact on what had been a rising black middle class in Memphis. You have to wonder if this has been experienced in other cities.
Not so long ago, Memphis, a city where a majority of the residents are black, was a symbol of a South where racial history no longer tightly constrained the choices of a rising black working and middle class. Now this city epitomizes something more grim: How rising unemployment and growing foreclosures in the recession have combined to destroy black wealth and income and erase two decades of slow progress.
The median income of black homeowners in Memphis rose steadily until five or six years ago. Now it has receded to a level below that of 1990 — and roughly half that of white Memphis homeowners, according to an analysis conducted by Queens College Sociology Department for The New York Times.
Black middle-class neighborhoods are hollowed out, with prices plummeting and homes standing vacant in places like Orange Mound, White Haven and Cordova. As job losses mount — black unemployment here, mirroring national trends, has risen to 16.9 percent from 9 percent two years ago; it stands at 5.3 percent for whites — many blacks speak of draining savings and retirement accounts in an effort to hold onto their homes. The overall local foreclosure rate is roughly twice the national average.
(The unemployment situation in Arkansas is similar -- 6.4 percent for whites and 14.5 percent for blacks in March.)