Black Public Scholars

August 20, 2009

What’s Going on with the Economy?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University 

The economic downturn has hurt us all. Black unemployment has been nearly 70% higher than that for white Americans, and the blow is even greater for people of color, since there is less black wealth to fall back on during tough financial times. We must remember, however, that the global recession has literally led to starvation around the world, as there were many citizens who could barely buy food even during the good times.

The IMF’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, says the global recession had "left deep scars, which will affect both supply and demand for many years to come." Blanchard also makes the additional point that economic models used to understand past recessions cannot be used to understand this one. When attempting to understand the cyclical nature of African American wealth, the models are even sketchier than they are for the rest of the world.

If you want to understand what happened to our economy, imagine you have a friend who appears to have the flu. The standard flu recovery time is going to be just a few days, so you expect to see them back at it within a week. They then go to the doctor, and it turns out that they have a sinus infection, extending the recovery period at least another week. But instead of coming back to work in 1 – 2 weeks, they are sick for an entire month. Well, this warrants another trip to the doctor, where you find out that the person actually has HIV. This changes the entire treatment strategy, since the short-term problems were nothing more than symptomatic triggers of serious long-term health issues. What’s worse is that with or without serious intervention, the patient may never be completely healthy again.

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