What about the black working class?

— Amid all of the talk about economic populism this election cycle, one group has been largely left out: working class Americans of color.

The focus has been on the white working class, with the narrative of a forgotten America where rural whites once held steady factory jobs with decent wages. The economic anxiety facing black and brown workers, while arguably more profound, has been largely left out of the conversation.

In fact, in a CNN/Kaiser poll taken before the election, 63% of white working class respondents said they were satisfied with their personal financial situation compared to just 40% of black working class respondents. Both groups were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the country’s economic situation.

The disparities make sense considering the vast racial wealth gap in the U.S. White families, on average, tend to have 13 times more wealth than black and Latino families, according to the Pew Research Center.

Blacks and Latinos also tend to be paid less than whites and they are also more likely to have higher rates of unemployment than whites do. They are also more likely to live below the poverty line than whites.

One study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that black employees with more experience and education were still paid less than their white counterparts. Another study by the Corporation for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies said if current trends persist, it would take 228 years for black families and 84 years for Latino families to accumulate the same amount of wealth as whites.

Yet, the focus remains on the problems of white working class Americans.

“In general there is a tendency to not talk about blacks as workers. This hurts the whole dialogue,” said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and an economics professor at Howard University. Instead, black and brown workers are considered “underclass” as opposed to working class and “lazy” instead of hardworking, said Spriggs. And yet, they too have worn overalls and lost factory jobs.

“The notion of the white working class implicitly embodies a view of white privilege,” said Spriggs, “It implies that things are supposed to be different for them, that they aren’t the same, that they aren’t going to face the same pressures.”

There is no official definition of the working class. Some define it by education level or job sector, others by income. John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution calls these voters “economically marginalized” because they often fall somewhere between the poor and the middle class.

“The realities of race in our society and in our economy benefit white Americans over communities of color,” Hudak said.

President-elect Donald Trump promised to address some of the economic issues facing black voters with his New Deal for Black America, which he released in October. The ten-point plan includes a series of economic proposals that some experts say fall short of their intended goal.

In it, Trump calls for tax reforms including lowering the business tax from 35% to 15% and imposing a “massive” middle class tax cut and child care tax deductions.

Assuming tax cuts will help communities of color is “foolish,” said Hudak. “We didn’t see massive employment creation in the 2000s following those tax cuts,” Hudak said. “What we did see is massive wealth accumulation of the top earning of Americans, but we didn’t see a trickle down effect.”

Reverend Starsky Wilson, the president and chief executive of the Deaconess Foundation, a non-profit serving the children of St. Louis and a member of the Ferguson Commission, said a better way to spur economic growth would be through raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. “Those aren’t asset building strategies, those aren’t income building strategies,” Starsky said of the Trump’s tax plan.

According to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor statistics, 3% of white, Asian and Latino workers earned the federal minimum wage or less, compared to 4% of black workers.

Trump also called for a “tax holiday for inner city investment,” which Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and an organizer for the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter chapter, called “code for gentrification.” She said such tax holidays allow investors to build amenities that typically attract mostly wealthier, white residents, thereby pushing poorer, working class people of color further away from city centers.

In his plan, Trump also calls for financial reforms to expand credit and support new job creation, including making it easier for African-Americans to get credit to start businesses.

“Credit is debt,” said Starsky. “The community is talking about building assets, you’re talking about building more debt. Who benefits when you offer more credit? The banks. We’ve seen that story before,” said Starsky, referring to the housing boom when blacks and Latinos were the prime targets of subprime loans.

Trump also called for new investments in infrastructure as a way to create jobs, something that Democrats have had on their agenda.

Hudak said Trump’s proposal was “a very good idea that would have meaningful effects in both white and non-white communities,” but he was concerned about the emphasis on public and private partnerships to achieve that goal. “Roads are not private, ports are not private,” Hudak said. “I don’t know if the President-elect would use tax incentives in order for private companies to take over public infrastructure.”

Abdullah was also concerned about this point. “Any time we see the term public-private partnership we should wake up. It means diverting public dollars to private corporations,” she said.

Trump also proposed canceling “all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations,” and using the estimated savings of $100 billion over 8 years to fund urban infrastructure.

“If you were interested in the water systems of the inner city you wouldn’t be talking about dismantling the EPA,” said Starsky of the Ferguson Commission. “The rebuilding of infrastructure is the responsibility of government.”

Representatives for Trump did not return requests seeking comment.

It’s lonely in the Black 1%

— NEW YORK — It’s one of the loneliest, most exclusive clubs in America.

Among the nation’s wealthiest Americans — known as the Top 1% — only a very small percentage are black.

To gain membership into this elite group in 2013, it required a household net worth of nearly $7.9 million, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And only 1.7% of those who met that mark are black.

Sheila Johnson is one of them. Johnson is the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, chief executive of Salamander Hotels & Resorts and she owns a stake in three professional sports teams, including the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics.

Yet despite these accomplishments, Johnson said she still has had to contend with racism and biases that have presented costly and frustrating roadblocks.

“There is a loneliness that very wealthy African-Americans do feel in their lives,” Johnson said. “No matter how much money you have as an African-American, you’re still an African-American.”

It took her more than 10 years to build the Salamander Resort & Spa, an elegant 168-room resort sitting on 340 acres of pristine land in Middleburg, Virginia. Even with the wealth she had amassed, banks were still reluctant to lend her money, she said.

“There were people out there that said ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re an African-American woman. You don’t know about the hotel business. It isn’t going to work. I’ve never seen anybody black do anything that has excellence,'” Johnson said.

The fact that she is a woman made it even more difficult to get a loan, Johnson said.

“I watch men, how they’re able to fall on their face. Next I know, they got the next great deal going…banks will loan them money for a sniffle,” she said. “Banks turned me down because I’m a woman. I’m not that proven entity out there.”

But she pressed on and built the resort anyway.

An important part of Johnson’s success is giving back, by creating pathways for young people of color to gain access to education and to build wealth, she said. The Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, for example, is a program that connects young students with seasoned professionals. The program awards tuition and fees to selected students for up to two years toward a graduate program as well as a stipend of up to $10,000.

“The white kids that are out there, they got daddy’s law firm or whatever. They’re taken care of and never have to worry about it,” Johnson said.

Eddie Brown, a Baltimore-based hotelier and chief executive of Brown Capital Management agrees. Brown and his wife Sylvia are also part of the 1% and seek to help other people of color get ahead through philanthropy and other initiatives.

Not only is the majority of the staff at Brown Capital black — a choice that Brown said is deliberate — but the couple’s charitable foundation provides grants for education, art and health initiatives that help low-income people living in Baltimore.

“I think it’s really incumbent upon [those of] us who have achieved some modicum of success to make it our business to mentor and to help uplift,” Brown said. “It’s a slow process. It’s a gradual process, but we have to reach back, take someone by the hand, show them the way.”

Brown also tries to stay connected to African Americans who haven’t reached the elite 1%. Just a few minutes away from The Ivy Hotel, the Brown’s lush Relais & Châteaux, is a corner barbershop in a much poorer part of Baltimore where Brown gets his hair cut.

“The reason I have been going there since we moved to Baltimore, and I still go there is because we come in touch with the real people,” Brown said. “I don’t want to lose touch of that and to see what they’re experiencing and what they’re going through.”

VIDEO: Meet the white valedictorian of a historically black college

— At first glance, Joshua Packwood is the embodiment of white privilege: He’s college educated, married, a father of two and he runs a successful hedge fund in Manhattan.

But his life, which began in Kansas City, Missouri, hasn’t always been so good.

CNN Video

Meet the white valedictorian of a historically black college

Does “historically black” mean “exclusively black”? Founded after the Civil War to educate African-Americans who were largely barred from other colleges, financial pressures have led historically black colleges to adopt a new mission — diversify. Here’s what it’s like to be one of the 11% of students at HBCUs who are white.

Before Packwood was born, his father was in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk or talk. His mother had to care for her ailing husband and two sons alone. Eventually, Packwood’s father went into an assisted living facility and his mother began a relationship with a man who became physically abusive. At the same time, she was struggling to find steady work and pay rent.

Packwood’s clashes with his stepfather forced him to make the painful choice to leave home. He was just 11 years old.

He bounced from one home to another, briefly staying with friends and family, including a stint in a trailer park with an Inuit woman who had multiple sclerosis and an upper middle class white family where both parents were successful lawyers.

Then he began to rebel. He was expelled from two different schools and had a few minor brushes with the law.

When he was 13, Packwood had just stolen a bike when he ran into Timothy Jones, a middle school classmate who considered Packwood “a troublemaking punk.” Slowly, Jones, who is black, and Packwood got to know each other better.

One day, Packwood was coming out of detention and missed his bus. He needed a place to stay so he asked Jones if he could spend the night at his house. Jones “very reluctantly” agreed, Packwood recalls.

Each night that week, Packwood asked if he could stay another night until finally Jones’ parents decided to take him in. They bought him clothes and a bed to sleep on. “They treated me just like Tim,” Packwood said, “As if I had been with them since birth.”

The Joneses lived in Grandview, a lower-middle class suburb outside of Kansas City. Eartha “Mama” Jones was a stay-at-home mom, who occasionally worked as a part-time salesperson at a mall. Barry Jones, Sr., was a warehouse manager at Grainger, the industrial supply company.

“They got me focused, playing sports, focusing on my grades,” Packwood said. “Having that structure, having that family there…it had a huge impact on me.”

In addition to sports and school, the boys sang in a choir, played video games and made up their own rap lyrics. The Jones family “treated me just like one of their kids — punishment, love and all,” Packwood said.

The results were transformative. “I went from being expelled the previous year, to being the top student at the school and getting all these accolades,” Packwood said.

He lived with the Jones family for about a year, before moving in with his grandmother. But Packwood still spent almost every day at the Joneses and, of course, with Tim.

By then, Packwood was about to start his freshman year at a predominantly black high school, which he described as “very, very poor.” (Packwood says he was at “the lower tier of that economic breakdown.”) The majority of the students — including Packwood — received free breakfast and lunch. Academically, he excelled and was a star athlete, playing varsity football, wrestling, track, and cross country.

Packwood’s experiences led him to want to major in African-American studies in college. So a guidance counselor suggested he consider Morehouse College, one of the most iconic historically black colleges in the United States.

He was accepted to Columbia, Stanford and Morehouse.

Some of his friends were concerned that opting for Morehouse over Columbia (where he had received a full financial aid package) would be a mistake, Packwood said. “People were concerned that I would be sacrificing a great education and opportunities to gain a unique experience that was not guaranteed to be uniquely good,” he said.

But unlike Columbia and Stanford, Morehouse recruited him aggressively, he said. Packwood recalls a phone call where a Morehouse dean tried to encourage him to accept their offer so he wouldn’t “be the only brother on the yard at Stanford.”

Confused, Packwood pointed the dean to the section on his application that noted that his race is white. It made no difference. The school continued to woo Packwood, in part, with an academic scholarship because of his high grades in high school.

He needed the aid, but Packwood was conflicted. “There was a part of me that was thinking, “Am I taking the scholarship away from another student? Am I getting this purely because I’m going to be the token white guy on campus?”

Ultimately, Packwood accepted Morehouse’s offer. “There is literally only one place like Morehouse on the entire planet, which is predominantly black, all male, so for me to get that experience and have that perspective was really the key differentiator,” he said.

Packwood’s experience at Morehouse included exposure to a wide diversity of blackness and black cultures, something that, despite having grown up “very much immersed and involved in part of the black community,” Packwood said he had never seen. “We had goths we had borders, we had guys who loved heavy metal. You had Republicans, you had sort of everything, you had rich, you had poor, you had guys from deep in the South, from the middle of nowhere, from Mississippi, and then you had guys from L.A., or New York, or wherever it was,” he said.

Many of his classmates were also wealthier, better dressed and more articulate than he was, Packwood said. It made him realize how class could sometimes be more of a unifying factor than race and how poor blacks and poor whites might have more in common with each other than, say, poor whites and rich whites.

As the future of affirmative action is being considered, Packwood — who was both an ethnic and economic minority at his school — thinks both race and class should be part of the equation. “If a sensible policy is found that combines those two, I think we will make a lot of progress in helping them close all the gaps that we see.”

Packwood, who eventually majored in economics, excelled at Morehouse. And in 2008, he became the school’s first white valedictorian.

“Economically now, I’m at the top, and so from one perspective I recognize that I’m very fortunate, and a lot of that is white privilege,” said Packwood.

Why black comedian W. Kamau Bell is hanging out with the KKK

— Why would a black man hang out with the Ku Klux Klan?

The answer to that question can be found in the first episode of The United Shades of America, a new CNN original series featuring comedian W. Kamau Bell that debuts Sunday. Over the course of eight episodes, Bell travels to places where “you either wouldn’t expect I would go or where I absolutely shouldn’t go.”

KKK compounds in the South would likely rank among the latter, but Bell goes anyway.

The result is a combination of hilarious moments and deeply disturbing interactions. The episode’s first scene shows Bell driving down a long country road in Arkansas at night (almost all of the compounds he visits are on long country roads). He’s going to meet with a man who identifies himself as the Imperial Wizard of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and is dressed in full KKK regalia.

In a Facebook Live interview, Bell admitted to being afraid during the encounter — particularly because he couldn’t see who else was around him. But despite the intensity of the man standing before him, Bell lightens the moment by suggesting the KKK member (whose voice is disguised) add an opening to his mask so people can hear him speak better. The KKK member said he would consider it.

Comedy, said Bell, was one of the ways he was able to connect with his subjects. It was also a way to help him deal with the emotionally draining process of being a black man interviewing people who vehemently hate blacks and other people of color. Whenever he was able to get a Klan member to laugh, Bell said he jokingly thought, “Wait a minute white supremacy, I think you just submitted to my black supremacy.”

While the pièce de résistance in the episode includes Bell witnessing a cross burning in the woods, there were also scenes with Klan members who weren’t wearing their robes. In one, Bell meets Pastor Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, for lunch at a diner in Harrison, Arkansas, where the population is 96% white.

“White people have an inner drive for discipline and law and order,” Robb said during the interview.

“All white people?” asked Bell, lightening the moment with a laugh.

“Not all white people,” said Robb “Some are really trash.”

Robb goes on to explain to Bell that “if people of my character and racial integrity were in charge, your communities would be safe again.”

Bell probes deeper, asking Robb whether he would ever come to his house for dinner. Robb declines.

Despite his sense of humor, Bell said he never forgot the weight of the horrifying role that the Klan played in terrorizing blacks throughout U.S. history.

“Those robes carry a lot of weight,” Bell said “I never got that far from it. I never could disconnect from it. Most black people, most people of color who got that close to the Klan probably didn’t get away alive.”

Explore the nation’s most interesting subcultures with comedian W. Kamau Bell and learn how our differences unite and divide us. United Shades of America airs Sundays at 10 p.m. starting April 24.


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Did Hillary and Bernie connect with black voters?

— Three little words made a big difference during Tuesday night’s debate after a viewer on Facebook asked the Democratic presidential candidates: Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?

Up first was Bernie Sanders, who unequivocally answered “black lives matter,” invoking the popular Twitter hashtag that has come to represent a national movement against police brutality and racial and social injustice.

“The African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail,” Sanders said. “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.”

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, also used the phrase in his response. “Black lives matter and we have a lot of work to do to reform our criminal justice system, and to address race relations in our country.”

Yet, Hillary Clinton and the other candidates refrained from uttering the phrase.

When asked what she would do for African Americans that President Obama could not, Clinton said she would continue the work he has started on reforming the criminal justice system and curbing mass incarceration.

Another part of her plan: to improve early childhood education and housing in black communities. “We need a new New Deal for communities of color,” Clinton said.

But black activists didn’t think any of the candidates went far enough on the issues.

In an interview with CNN Wednesday morning, Deray McKesson, a prominent black activist with civil rights group Campaign Zero, said the candidates should have spent much more time directly addressing issues affecting blacks and warned Democrats against taking the black vote for granted.

“If we don’t start hearing direct language about black lives, then people will just stay home,” he said.

In the past few months, McKesson has been instrumental in coordinating meetings between black activists and political candidates, including Sanders and Clinton.

Just last week, McKesson and a group of more than a dozen activists and staffers met with Clinton in Washington D.C. where they discussed the private prison system, demilitarization of the police and mental health services for children.

Despite those advances, McKesson thought Clinton could have said more during Tuesday night’s debate. “She’s the only candidate of the major candidates on the stage who didn’t directly talk about race in her response,” he said.

Clinton was criticized this summer for using the phrase “all lives matter” at a campaign stop near Ferguson, Mo. where Michael Brown was killed. Then, a few weeks later at a campaign stop in South Carolina, she said “We first have to acknowledge and believe that black lives matter. It’s not just a slogan.”

The fact that she didn’t say either phrase at Tuesday night’s debate resonated with Tory Russell, the co-founder and program director of Hands Up United, a St. Louis based civil rights group.

Russell believes that both Clinton and former Virginia senator Jim Webb sidestepped the issue of race for political reasons. “They are going to be looking for more inclusive hashtags or more inclusive statements like ‘all lives matter’ because they are looking to get to the next step [in the campaign],” Russell said.

Patrisse Cullors, an activist and co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, agreed. Clinton’s choice to stay away from uttering the phrase “black lives matter” during the debate signaled that the seasoned politician was “being strategic in her approach” Cullors said. “She’s trying not to isolate audiences.”

Many of the Democratic candidates have been hard pressed to ignore issues from Black Lives Matter activists, particularly after a series of disruptions at campaign rallies across the country this summer.

Sanders appears to have gotten the message. He appeared to be “singing a new tune when it comes to how to talk about black lives and the issues facing black people in this country,” said Cullors.

His campaign has released its platform on racial justice that includes recommendations to demilitarize and diversify police departments, restore the Voting Rights Act and supporting a federally funded youth employment program.

McKesson said Sanders “has a platform that is strong” and that activists were eager to see Clinton release her own racial policy agenda in the coming weeks.

For Russell, Sander’s message about the economy was an attractive one since it appeared that he was “moving out of the center and further to the left on racial and social justice.”

However, the true winner of the debate on Tuesday was the Black Lives Matter movement, said Van Jones, a CNN political commentator. Getting the candidates to talk not just about the phrase, but about issues like mass incarceration and income inequality was a big win, he said.

“I don’t know if we won the debate, but we’ve entered the debate in a significant way,” said Cullors. “Culturally, the fact that we had an all white presidential candidacy talking about black people is huge.”


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Black activists press Hillary Clinton for action

— Hillary Clinton took one more step toward trying to win the black millennial vote Friday.

Clinton met with activists in the Black Lives Matter movement Friday where they discussed a range of issues, including the private prison system, demilitarization of the police and mental health services for children.

The meeting lasted 90 minutes and was attended by more than a dozen activists and Clinton campaign staff.

It was “productive,” said Deray McKesson, a prominent activist. “Everybody showed up ready to have an honest candid conversation about policy and approach.”

Brittany Packnett, a member of the racial and social justice group Campaign Zero, said Clinton also discussed her support for what is known as the 10/20/30 amendment to big economic stimulus of of 2009.

It would direct 10% of development dollars to communities where 20% of the people in that community have been living below the poverty line for the past 30 years.

Support for that policy is critical, Packnett said, given the size of racial wealth gap: The median wealth for white families hovers at about $134,000, compared to blacks at approximately $11,000 and Hispanics at around $13,900.

“What history has proven is that when economic policy is colorblind it leaves black people behind,” Packnett said.

McKesson and Packnett said they expected Clinton to release a more specific policy agenda that would detail how she would address racial and economic inequality.

In addition to a detailed plan, Packnett said Clinton would also need to demonstrate that she has the “political will” to move her policies forward. Otherwise, she said, “you can have a great piece of legislation on a piece of paper that has no hope of passing.”

This was not the first time Clinton has met with black activists. In August, Clinton met with members of various Black Lives Matter chapters and discussed issues including policies implemented by Bill Clinton that contributed the the high rates of incarceration of minority men in the 1990s.

“I do think that there was a different set of concerns back in the 1980s and the early 1990s,” Clinton told the activists in August. “And now I believe that we have to look at the world as it is today and try and figure out what will work now,” she said.

Late Friday, Clinton tweeted her reaction to the meeting: “Racism is America’s original sin. To those I met with today, thank you for sharing your ideas. -H”


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U.S. sees big spike in black and Hispanic women entrepreneurs

— When it comes to small business in the United States, more women are running the show.

On Wednesday, the National Women’s Business Council released an analysis of preliminary Census data which showed there were nearly 10 million women-owned small businesses in the U.S. in 2012, an almost 22% increase from 2007. (The Census defines a woman-owned business as one where a woman owns 51% or more of the business equity of stock).

While men still own more businesses than women, women-owned businesses grew at a rate of four times that of male-owned businesses. In 2012, men owned 14.9 million businesses.

Overall, women-owned businesses earned a total of $1.6 trillion between 2007 and 2012 and the vast majority (89.4%) were run by sole proprietors, meaning the only employee was the owner.

The report, which pulled data from the Census’s Survey of Small Business Owners, also highlighted major increases in small business ownership among women of color, particularly black and Hispanic women.

One notable trend that may have had an impact: Blacks and Hispanics had consistently higher rates of unemployment from 2007 to 2012 than white or Asian women. In addition, in 2011, Black and Hispanic women were also more likely to be the financial head of household than Asian and white women.

“We speculate that there may have been a bigger necessity among women of color to start their own businesses,” said Carla Harris, the chair of the National Women’s Business Council who was appointed by President Obama. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” she added.

While the economic strains women of color faced during the recession may explain part of the reason many of them became entrepreneurs, Harris also attributed the growth, in part, to “increased necessity for women of color to supplement either their existing income (as they are often paid substantially less than the national average) or creating a primary source of income.”

White women still own the majority of women-owned businesses in the U.S. (6.1 million), and earned significantly more at an average of $214,000 in 2012. That’s compared to average earnings of $79,000 for businesses owned by women of color. However, only about 10% more white women started new businesses between 2007 and 2012, the smallest percentage increase of all female entrepreneurs surveyed.

The largest percentage increase in business ownership, however, was among Hispanic women. In 2012, there were nearly 1.5 million small businesses owned by Hispanic women, an 87% increase from 2007, with these businesses generating a total of $83.6 billion in that same period. Business owned by Hispanic men grew by almost 40% from 2007 to 2012. California was the state with the highest percentage of business owned by Hispanic women.

Black women also saw impressive gains in small business ownership with more than 1.5 million black women-owned businesses in 2012, a 67.5% increase from 2007. Those businesses generated a total of $44 billion in that same period. Georgia was the state with the highest number of black women owned business.Since 2007, business ownership among black men increased by nearly 19%.

While Asian-American women owned the smallest number of small businesses in the U.S., they still saw a 44% increase in ownership from 2007 to 2012. In that same period, businesses owned by Asian-American men grew 25%. California was the state with the largest number of Asian-American women-owned firms.

One hurdle facing women entrepreneurs of all races and ethnicities was access to capital, the National Women’s Business Council report said. According to the report, women start their businesses with half as much money as men do, and they are more likely to use personal savings to do so. They are also less likely to access bank loans than men are.

Harris said the National Women’s Business Council would continue to analyze the data particularly when it comes to the age of the entrepreneurs. “Millennials have an increased appetite for entrepreneurship relative to the boomers and traditionalists,” Harris said. “We suspect that is part of the increase as well.”


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