Buried in a New York Times story about the economy was this arresting statistic: Median family income for black Americans has declined a whopping 10.9 percent during the Obama administration. It has declined for other groups as well -- 3.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 4.5 percent for Hispanics - but the figure for blacks is huge. This decline does not include losses suffered during the financial crisis and the recession that followed, but it instead measures declines since June 2009, when the recession officially ended.
That's not the only bad news for African-Americans. The poverty rate for blacks is now 25.8 percent. The black labor force participation rate, which rose throughout the 1980s and 1990s, has declined for the past decade and quite sharply under Obama to 61.4 percent. The black unemployment rate, according to Pew Research, stands at 13.4 percent. Among black, male, high school dropouts, PBS' Paul Salmon reports, the unemployment rate is a staggering 95 percent.
Does any of this affect the standing of the nation's first black president with black Americans? Not a whit, apparently. This is not to suggest that any president should gear his policies to one or another ethnic group. The president serves the nation as a whole, or should. But if unemployment, poverty and the black/white income gap had expanded under a different president to the degree is has under Obama (the income gap is now larger than it was under George W. Bush), it wouldn't go unreported and the president would not escape responsibility.
The advent of an African-American president surely brings psychic dividends to black Americans (and the rest of us, to a degree), but those intangibles may be pretty much all they get from his presidency. In terms of material prosperity, his leadership has delivered nothing but decline. He plays the psychological card very skillfully -- showboating his identification with Trayvon Martin and sticking up for Henry Louis Gates -- but more and more his gestures in this regard seem like substitutes for results.
Black poverty is up, employment is down and wealth is down. The dissolution of the black family continues unabated, with 72.3 percent of black children born to unmarried mothers. Black males constitute just 6 percent of the population yet comprise more than 40 percent of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons and jails. One-third of black men aged 20 to 29 are in the purview of the criminal justice system (incarcerated or on probation or parole).