Recession Erases Black Progress in Memphis

For years a model of a thriving new black middle class, the city of Memphis has now seen decades of economic gains reversed. Median income of black homeowners has collapsed to levels below 1990 after a long period of steady gains and is now about half of white homeowner's income, while black unemployment has leapt to 16.9 percent from 9 percent in 2008 versus only 5.3 percent for whites. “This cancer is metastasizing into an economic crisis for the city,” Mayor A. C. Wharton Jr. told the New York Times. “It’s done more to set us back than anything since the beginning of the civil rights movement.” Economists say Memphis is part of a nationwide trend. “We’re wiping out whatever wealth blacks have accumulated—it assures racial economic inequality for the next generation,” Thomas M. Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University told the Times.