By Barney Blakeney
Despite the glaring prosperity that exists in Charleston County, the economic gulf between Blacks and whites that has existed 50 years ago continues. That chasm is among the widest of any community in the country. The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston’s report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015” notes the median income for Blacks in Charleston County is less than half that of whites in the county and that the unemployment rate for Blacks in the county doubles that of whites.
In 2016 when former Gov. Nikki Haley boasted the state had its lowest unemployment rate in 15 years, hidden were statistics that showed blatant disparities between Black and white families. In 2015 the median income for a white family in Charleston-North Charleston was about $65,000. The median income for Black families however was only about $30,000. The gap between the median income for white families and Black families in Charleston was wider than that in Columbia and Raleigh, N.C.
Disparities in the unemployment rates between Blacks and whites in the county reflect those income disparities. In 2015 the unemployment rate among Blacks in Charleston County was about 9 percent. Among whites in the county the unemployment rate was three percent. The disparity in the unemployment of white males and Black males (2.4 percent/9.4 percent) was equally glaring. The unemployment gap between Black females and white females was similar, 7.8 percent and 3.7 percent respectively. The number of Black children under age 5 living in poverty nearly doubled the number of white children under age 5 living in poverty.
Homeownership, one indicator of economic viability, also is an area in which the gap between Black families and white families persists. In 2015 about 47 percent of white families were homeowners compared to only about 12 percent of Black families.
The highest percentages of Black residents live in McClellanville followed by North Charleston and Wadmalaw Island. And in the county’s wealthiest communities, only 0.2 percent of Kiawah Island residents are Black and about 7.7 percent of Mount Pleasant residents are Black. Seventeen percent of low income whites were denied home purchase loans in 2014 compared to 36 percent of low income Blacks.
Charleston Trident Urban League Executive Director Otha Meadows said we can expect the disparities in economic conditions between Blacks and whites in the county to continue until a succinct strategy is implemented to address them. Scores of reports over the years have documented the disparities, he said, but until government, residents and businesses come together to change the dynamics, we’ll continue to have persistent disparities.
“People are afraid to talk about how the historic impact of racism, the institution of racism, masks those disparities in a period of unprecedented prosperity in our community,” Meadows said. “In this period of unprecedented prosperity, there is an obvious lack of minority businesses because of inequities in lending and because minority entrepreneurs are treated differently than their counterparts,” he said.