Really a Racial Recession?
Discrimination is an insufficient explanation for black unemployment.


Are blacks in America suffering a Great Depression, suffering worse than other Americans because of undeniable employment discrimination? Kevin Hassett thinks so. He made his case here, and NRO asked some economics and civil-rights analysts to share their thoughts on the topic.

I have no problem with Kevin’s prescriptions per se, even though I am skeptical about his diagnosis in two respects.

First, the default explanation for unexplained racial disparities ought not to be discrimination. I don’t view that explanation as particularly “simple,” let alone as an application of “Occam’s Razor.” Accepting for the sake of argument the study that Kevin cites, why would corporate America be happy to discriminate against lower-wage black workers but not against higher-wage black workers — what’s simple about that?

Second, I don’t think it is fair to suggest that conservatives “deny” or won’t “admit” that that discrimination still exists. Of course it still exists, and there will always be discrimination and prejudice (and bigots of all colors) in a free society.

I don’t see my two criticisms as inconsistent: Yes, there is discrimination, and we should enforce the laws prohibiting actual disparate treatment (versus disparate impact), but we have to look elsewhere to explain most racial disparities.

In any event — and here I agree with Kevin — the way to fight non-p.c. discrimination is not by institutionalizing p.c. discrimination. And, for the same reason, public policies should be adopted on their merits, and without regard to the skin color of their beneficiaries.

Roger Clegg is general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Va.

Kevin Hassett writes that black Americans have disproportionately suffered during the Great Recession; conservative policies could ease their suffering. The nation’s bipartisan housing policy certainly hurts black Americans by favoring home ownership at the expense of renters. As of 2005, according to the Census, 48.2 percent of black families owned their homes, as opposed to 72.7 percent of white families.

It’s not just that the federal mortgage-interest tax deduction disproportionately benefits upper-income taxpayers (a group in which black families still have low representation). The deduction offers a huge taxpayer subsidy to middle-income families who desert rental neighborhoods. Lower-income families, then, lose the benefit of having stable middle-class neighbors around.

The tax code shouldn’t discriminate between renting and owning. New York City, where two-thirds of households still rent, proves that you don’t need universal homeownership to have stable, healthy neighborhoods. You need good public safety and good physical infrastructure.