The state of black Boston: Not so good

Dismal statistics don’t give big reasons to cheer

The Urban League’s “State of Black Boston” report released Monday evokes the distinctly Hobbesian perspective that for many African-Americans in the Hub conditions are “poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

To be sure, the report stops way short of describing the black community as being in a “state of war of all against all,” as political theorist Thomas Hobbes wrote of human existence generally in The Leviathan.  But the local Urban League’s account of the life conditions of African-Americans in Boston is striking in its detailing of deep problems, from ethnic health care disparities to the racial income divide, from the educational achievement gap to housing apartheid patterns, from disparate life expectancies between whites and blacks to poverty rates.

Consider the following data excerpted from the study:

Black Employment and Income

  • Black unemployment rates are the highest of any groups in Boston, according to the study, and black median household income ($33,420) is $30,000 lower than that of the white median household income ($63,980).  A persistent racial gap between blacks and whites in terms of median income remains regardless of the type of family structure or the education attained by blacks.

Black Poverty in Boston

  • More than one fifth (22.5 percent) of all black families and 25.2 percent of all black residents were reported as impoverished; this compares to 7.1 percent for white families, and 13.8 percent for white residents.  More than one fifth (22.0 percent) of all black households received food stamps compared to 6 percent for whites. Almost half (45.2 percent) of all black youth 17 years of age and under, are food stamp recipients.

Black Homeownership in Boston

  • Black homeownership remains relatively low, as is the case for Latinos and Asians, compared to white homeownership, and the black community has experienced a very high number and concentration of foreclosures. Almost two-thirds (63.1 percent) of all black homeowners (and 64.8% of all Latino homeowners) pay more than 30 percent of their household income for mortgage costs.

Against the backdrop of this somewhat bleak landscape, the population growth rate for the black community in Boston has stalled and become geographically compacted into well-delineated neighborhoods.  Many middle-class professionals educated and trained in Boston are consistently choosing to live in other parts of the country.  Add to this the fact that blacks are unevenly represented among elected officials and lost an entire set of potential positions to be elected to with the abolishment of the elected Boston School Committee in the 1990s.

The report covers vast social, cultural, civic and human service categories that have not been compiled about black life in Boston for decades.  Along the way it evokes optimism or “good news,” such as “social progress” between ethnic groups, “inclusive city government led by Mayor Menino,” and a “significant increase of black-owned business and associated sales.”

The report is remarkably silent, however, on the issue of urban violence, especially as it pertains to youth homicides.

Meet the Author

The report was co-produced by the Urban League, the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston, and the Boston Branch of the NAACP.  The organizations plan to follow-up upon the many recommendations articulated in the report.

Given the extraordinary conditions under which tens of thousands of blacks are suffering in Boston, nothing short of a well-coordinated social and political effort will be needed to stem the tide of much misery.

Kevin Peterson is founder and director of the New Democracy Coalition, a Boston-based organization focusing on civic literacy, civic policy, and electoral justice.