African-Americans and Hispanics have been hit hardest by the economic downturn. Hispanics have seen a 66 percent drop in personal wealth, and African-Americans have seen a 53 percent decline in personal wealth since 2005.
The recession has afflicted these groups with two large blows from high unemployment to foreclosures. Unemployment damaged over 9 percent, the housing market collapse added to the demise of much of minority wealth.
Unfortunately, as we turn to the 2012 election, these two bitter pills that minorities have been forced to swallow have left a bad taste that may not bode well for those running for office. Certainly, there is enough blame to go around for the economic condition of the U.S. But the financial setbacks that these groups have suffered will take decades to reach recovery. It is estimated that the impact of the recession has pushed minorities back to wealth levels they maintained in the 1980s.
What will be most important is a solution-oriented campaign that speaks directly to the issues that minorities face the most. Although everyone has been affected by the recession, Hispanics and African-Americans are feeling the burn much more severely since they don't have jobs, health care and many have lost their homes.
There needs to be an immediate, aggressive approach in tackling these issues for minorities to stay engaged in the political process. High unemployment, foreclosures, health insurance issues, etc. are forcing this demographic to wonder what's in it for them in 2012. Keeping this segment engaged means a targeted approach. For example, more skills training is vital to get the unemployed back to work, and more aggressive requirements on lenders' mortgage modification programs are needed. The housing issue is very problematic due to high levels of unemployment, as it presents a vicious cycle, since one often leads to the other. President Obama recently asked mortgage servicers to increase forbearance plans to 12 months for unemployed homeowners. This increase should be coupled with more permanent modifications that include principal balance reductions to reflect the reality of where home prices currently stand.
It is quite unfortunate, but heading into 2012, these are still issues that are weighing heavily on Hispanics and African-Americans. Minorities are going to have to see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, and a way to start re-building. In particular, they are going to have to see a way to regain what they have lost.
With a sense that they have shouldered the brunt of the economic downturn, and no clear end in sight, they will want to know that their concerns are being heard.