President Donald Trump barely mentioned African-Americans in his recent State of the Union address. The one exception was when he boasted that the unemployment rates for blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans "have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded."
But Trump in his speech, like in his presidency, failed to connect with African-Americans on specific policy proposals that might change their life prospects – and their opinion of him.
In the 2016 election, Trump received only 8 percent of the black vote, compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 88 percent. The president claims, implausibly, that he can win 20 percent of the black vote in 2020.
A poll conducted after the midterms of 2018 by groups including the NAACP determined that more than 80 percent of African-Americans feel disrespected by Trump. The same poll found that 89 percent of black women, 83 percent of black men, and 50 percent of white voters "believe Trump's statements and policies will cause a major setback for racial progress."
African-Americans continue to face huge obstacles in America today. The nation's black poverty rate is 20 percent, two and half times than that of whites. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median income for black families is $36,651, approximately $24,000 below that of white families.
Moreover, the unemployment rate in many cities with large numbers of African-Americans is still very high. In Philadelphia, for example, black unemployment is 11.9 percent.
In the Great Recession of 2008, blacks lost billions of dollars in wealth due to the collapse of the housing market and rampant predatory mortgage lending (reverse redlining) that targeted black homeowners. Yet this was just a continuation of declining wealth amongst black families that began decades ago. A 2019 report by the Institute for Policy Studies reaches some startling conclusions.
"The median Black family with just over $3,500 owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median White family owns," the report said. "The median Latino family with just over $6,500 owns just 4 percent of the wealth of the median White family. Put differently, the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family."
There are other metrics that should give cause for alarm. As Stacey Abrams of Georgia noted in giving the Democratic response to Trump's talk, "Maternal mortality rates show that mothers, especially black mothers, risk death to give birth."
There was no mention of these inequities in Trump's speech. No proposals from the president to help African-Americans, or anyone else, attend college affordably or re-train in a new professional field. No discussion of loan forgiveness programs for college graduates. No mention of raising wages for all workers to livable wages, as the federal minimum wages remains at a pathetic $7.25 an hour.
And while Trump did mention that he signed criminal justice reform legislation, he neglected to say the law affects only 181,000 individuals who are in federal prison. According to the Bureau of Justice, more than 2 million Americans were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at the end of 2016. Of these, 33 percent were African-Americans, who make up just 12 percent of the U.S. adult population.
Trump's address was another missed opportunity to simply condemn mass incarceration policies, call for broader and bolder criminal justice reform, and extend a real policy olive branch to black America. But, as has been the case with much of Trump's time in office, fixing long vexing problems and unjust outcomes was not on the agenda.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Brian Gilmore is a poet and teaches clinical public interest law at Michigan State University. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project and distributed by Tribune News Service.