May 19, 2024

Blacks Professionals’ Progress Stalls

Now, current and former partners say, the diversity committee meets less often, and the firm has fewer black lawyers than before. It is a trajectory familiar in many elite realms of American professional life. Even as racial barriers continue to fall, progress for African-Americans over all has remained slow — and in some cases appears to be stalling.

“You don’t want to be a diversity officer who only buys tables at events and seats people,” Ms. Higgins said recently. “It’s about recruiting and inclusion and training and development, with substantive work assignments.”

Nearly a half-century after a Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson, helped usher in the era of affirmative action, the Supreme Court is poised to rule as early as this week on whether the University of Texas can continue to consider race as one of many factors in its admissions policy. It is a case that could have a profound impact on race-based affirmative action programs across the nation, and it has reignited a discussion of how much progress minorities, blacks in particular, have made in integrating into some of the most sought-after professions, especially since the recession.

Only a little more than 1 percent of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies have black chief executives, although there are some prominent exceptions, like Kenneth I. Chenault of American Express and Ursula M. Burns of Xerox. At the nation’s biggest companies, about 3.2 percent of senior executive positions are held by African-Americans, according to an estimate by the Executive Leadership Council, an organization of current and former black senior executives.

While about 12 percent of the nation’s working-age population is black, about 5 percent of physicians and dentists in the United States are black — a share that has not grown since 1990, according to an analysis of census data that was prepared for The New York Times by sociologists at Queens College of the City University of New York. The analysis found that 3 percent of American architects are black, another field where the share has not increased in more than two decades.

The share of the nation’s lawyers who are minorities and women, which had been growing slowly but steadily for years, fell in 2010 for the first time since NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, began keeping statistics in 1993. The deep recession not only disproportionately hurt African-Americans in many fields, but it also led businesses to make diversity programs less of a priority. And a growing number of states — including Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Oklahoma — have moved to ban race-based affirmative action in recent years. California, Florida and Washington did so in the 1990s.

Such numbers raise the question of whether the private sector’s commitment to affirmative action and diversity programs is eroding, even as the Supreme Court again considers a high-profile case involving a public university.

“We’re at a precipice,” said John Page, the president of the National Bar Association, an 88-year-old group representing black lawyers and judges. “There is diversity fatigue. We could fall backwards very quickly.”

Even more worrisome to some people than the small number of African-Americans at the upper echelons of many organizations is a lack of progress at entry levels. In Texas legal circles, there have been some notable symbolic gains for black lawyers at the top of the profession; both the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association just elected their first black presidents. But many black lawyers said they worried that there were fewer young black lawyers in the pipeline for future leadership roles.

While blacks made up only 2.65 percent of the partners at Houston firms last year, that figure represents progress as the share of black partners more than doubled over the past decade, according to statistics kept by NALP, the law placement association. At the lower levels of firms, black lawyers have lost some ground, however. Houston firms reported that 4.74 percent of their associates last year were black, down from 4.96 percent in 2002, the association said.

Lisa Tatum, the black lawyer who will take over the presidency of the Texas bar next month, said there was concern that firms were not pursuing diversity as aggressively as they did before.

Nelson D. Schwartz reported from Houston, and Michael Cooper from New York.

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Economix Blog: Latinos on the Economy: Hard Hit but Hopeful

Latinos have been especially hard hit by the economic downturn, with nearly four in 10 — 38 percent — saying they have skipped meals because they did not have enough money for food, according to a national survey published on Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

With Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, duking it out in Florida for Latino votes, the Pew survey paints in the background to show why jobs and the economy, rather than immigration, are the leading issues for many Latinos.

Latinos nationally are keenly aware that they have fared worse than other groups, the Pew survey found. Yet they remain surprisingly optimistic that things will improve for them.

Nearly one-third of Latinos – 28 percent — say that as a result of plunging home values, their mortgages are higher than the current value of their homes, Pew found; that is double the rate of 14 percent found in a national poll conducted last March of homeowners who are underwater. And 7 percent of Latinos who do not own a home said they lost theirs to foreclosure in the past year; 5 percent of the general population that does not own a home reported facing a recent foreclosure in a survey conducted in May 2010.

About 37 percent of Latinos said they had trouble receiving or paying for medical care for their families.

More than half of the Latinos in the United States — 52 percent — are immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, based on census data. The economic pain is more severe among them than among native-born Latinos, with 43 percent of the immigrants surveyed saying they missed meals because they could not buy food.

Yet two-thirds of Latinos said they expected their finances to improve in the coming year, and about two-thirds expected their children to do better than they did, Pew found. In a Pew survey conducted last March, only 48 percent of the general public expected the next generation to have better lives.

About 11 percent of Florida’s registered Republicans are Latinos, according to official figures from the Florida secretary of state. Florida’s Latinos include many Cubans, who vote Republican more frequently than other Latinos and whose views may diverge from those of the Hispanic population as a whole.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Mr. Romney has taken a hard line on immigration, saying illegal immigrants should “self-deport.” Mr. Gingrich has said he also opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he would give legal status to some who have lived in the country for many years and to illegal immigrant students who agreed to serve in the military. Latinos nationwide overwhelmingly support policies to give legal status to illegal immigrants, Pew has found. Mr. Romney is betting that the economic issues will be more urgent to Latinos in Florida, where the housing crisis has been especially deep and long-lasting.

The survey is based on telephone interviews from Nov. 9 to Dec. 7 of a national sample of 1,220 Latinos, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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A 53% Surge in Poverty Rate Is Reshaping Suburbs

The increase in the suburbs was 53 percent, compared with 26 percent in cities. The recession accelerated the pace: two-thirds of the new suburban poor were added from 2007 to 2010.

“The growth has been stunning,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, who conducted the analysis of census data. “For the first time, more than half of the metropolitan poor live in suburban areas.”

As a result, suburban municipalities — once concerned with policing, putting out fires and repairing roads — are confronting a new set of issues, namely how to help poor residents without the array of social programs that cities have, and how to get those residents to services without public transportation. Many suburbs are facing these challenges with the tightest budgets in years.

“The whole political class is just getting the memo that Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here anymore,” said Edward Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

This shift has helped redefine the image of the suburbs. “The suburbs were always a place of opportunity — a better school, a bigger house, a better job,” said Scott Allard, an associate professor at the University of Chicago who focuses on social welfare policy and poverty. “Today, that’s not as true as the popular mythology would have us believe.”

Since 2000, the poverty roll has increased by five million in the suburbs, with large rises in metropolitan areas as different as Colorado Springs and Greensboro, N.C. Over the decade, Midwestern suburbs ranked high; recently, the rise has been sharpest in communities the housing collapse hit the hardest, like Cape Coral, Fla., and Riverside, Calif., according to the Brookings analysis.

Nearly 60 percent of Cleveland’s poor, once concentrated in its urban core, now live in its suburbs, up from 46 percent in 2000. Nationwide, 55 percent of the poor population in metropolitan areas is now in the suburbs, up from 49 percent.

Poverty is new in Parma Heights, a quiet suburb of cul-de-sacs and clipped lawns, and asking for help can be hard. The Parma Heights Food Pantry, which began serving several dozen families a month in 2006, and now helps 260, draws a stream of casualties from the moribund economy. Many never needed food relief before.

Like Mary W., 59, who has worked all her life, most recently at a tire company in Cleveland, and was always the one to remind colleagues to donate to charity. Now she is the one who receives it.

When she first came to the pantry, “I cried my eyes out,” said Mary, who asked that her last name not be used because she did not want her children to know about her financial troubles.

At Vineyard Community Church in Wickliffe, another Cleveland suburb, Brent Paulson, the pastor, said he had to post an employee in the driveway the day the church’s food bank was open to coax people inside, they were so ashamed to ask for help.

In a sign of just how far the economic distress had spread, one volunteer saw his former boss come to the pantry, Mr. Paulson said.

The Cleveland Food Bank, which serves six counties, doubled its distribution between 2005 and 2010. “There’s this sense of surprise,” said Anne Goodman, the director, “this feeling that this has got to be a mistake. It has got to be a bad dream.”

Calls to the United Way social services hot line from suburban areas in northeast Ohio more than doubled from 2005 to 2010, outstripping the increase in cities. “We are seeing a rise in need in places we never expected it,” said Stephen Wertheim, director of the hotline, First Call for Help.

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Economix: Podcast: Jobs, Wages and Middle-Class Costs

A drop in the unemployment rate and a jump in job creation must count as good news, but this is no time for celebration.

After all, at 8.8 percent, unemployment is still very high,even if the current rate is down slightly from 8.9 percent a month ago, and at the current pace of growth in jobs, a painfully large number of people will be out of work for years to come.

Still, as Michael Powell says on the new Weekend Business podcast and writes in The Times, there are some very positive signs embedded in the Labor Department’s monthly report. Manufacturing, for example, a downtrodden sector that has been in decline in the United States for decades, has been reviving in the economic recovery. Most sectors reported net job gains in March, and they occurred despite several global crises — the turmoil in the Middle East, the disasters in Japan and the debt problems in Europe.

In the United States, it’s tough enough to get a job in the current environment. It’s even tougher to get one that pays a living wage, as Motoko Rich observes in another discussion on the podcast. She talks about a new study, which she covered for The Times, indicating that many working people are unable to make ends meet.

The study, by Wider Opportunities for Women, a nonprofit group, found that a single worker needs an average income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That’s nearly three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Recent census data indicates that 14.3 percent of Americans were living below the official poverty line in 2009, and many working people are undoubtedly living below the income level defined in the study.

Robert Frank, the Cornell economist, looks at the cost of a middle-class existence in the Economic View column in Sunday Business. In the podcast, he notes that the most commonly used measure of average income — per capita gross domestic product, or G.D.P. — has gone up fairly steadily in the United States, but says it doesn’t give the full picture.

Among other shortcomings, he says, it doesn’t reflect the effects of growing income inequality. In reality, median wage earners now have a much heavier burden than those of previous generations, when you measure the work required to give a family an average home and children access to an average school.

The unusually tight synchronization of global financial markets is the subject of my Strategies column in Sunday Business, which I discuss with Motoko Rich on the podcast. Markets in various regions and for a range of asset classes — including stocks, bonds and commodities — have been moving together to a very extreme degree, recent studies have shown.

“Risk on, risk off” trading helps to explain some of this pattern. The phrase is trading jargon referring to a central decision these days — whether to hold high-risk, high-reward assets, or to move to a position of greater safety. Since the shocks of the financial crisis, this focus on risk has helped to increase the correlations of diverse markets, as has the growth of advanced communications and trading technologies.

The high correlation implies that many portfolios may be less well diversified than investors believe. In addition, financial institutions themselves may be exposed to greater risks than anticipated.

The podcast also discusses Tiger Woods’s stalled career in golf course design, which Paul Sullivan writes about on the cover of Sunday Business. He tells David Gillen that the troubles of the great golfer extend to his ventures in creating courses in the United States and abroad.

In the podcast’s news summary, I discuss a resignation at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the controversial trades that preceded it, the compensation of executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and a flare-up in the European debt crisis.

You can find specific segments of the show at these junctures: jobs report (33:13); news and wage study (26:47); Tiger Woods golf courses (19:48); Robert Frank (13:39); risk on, risk off (6:31); the week ahead (1:43).

As articles discussed in the podcast are published during the weekend, links will be added to this posting.

You can download the show by subscribing from the New York Times podcast page or directly from iTunes.

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