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NEW YORK NEW YORK: The toll on Bajans in America

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK: The toll on Bajans in America

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On a recent business trip to New York, a Barbadian executive visited Kings Plaza Mall in Brooklyn and came away somewhat depressed.
“Business was very bad in the stores,” he lamented.
“Too few customers were coming in and it was clear that companies were keeping their payrolls to the bare bones. If it’s like that in New York, it must be worse in other cities.”
The economic picture may not be ten times worse in the far flung corners of the United States but the financial pain being felt in poor and middle class homes is severe.
With unemployment remaining stubbornly high, people aren’t shopping as they used to in, say 2005, and that has had an obvious negative effect on their ability to buy goods and services. For Caribbean immigrants, economic conditions are tough indeed. That’s because blacks across America are bearing the full brunt of the recession.
“We, as immigrants from the Caribbean, live as black people in this country and what affects [the] African-American is sure to hit us,” said Dr Carlos Russell, a retired political science professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.
If Barbadians and others had any doubts about that dismal assessment, they just had to look at the results of a recent analysis of United States census data, which showed that the wealth gap between whites and blacks has widened significantly, so much so that it now stands at the widest in a quarter of a century.
From 2005 to 2009, the median wealth of black households plummeted by 53 per cent compared with 16 per cent among whites and 66 per cent among Hispanics. Two years ago, the median net worth of a black household was a mere US$5 667 compared with US$113 149 of a white and US$6 325 of a Hispanic.
Two key elements in the equation are the collapse in the housing market, which sent home values plummeting, and high unemployment.
Take the case of housing. That’s where most blacks and Hispanics accumulate their wealth and the crash left blacks with a median home equity of US$59 00 in 2009, down from US$76 910 four years earlier. It was a 23 per cent drop compared with the 50 per cent decline in the value of Hispanic-owned homes, which went from US$99 983 to US$49 145.
Like his or her African-American neighbour, the average Barbadian, for instance, measures wealth by the value of the home. Almost 60 per cent of a black household’s net worth can be found in home equity. For whites, the wealth portfolio is more diversified – home equity, stocks and mutual fund shares.