“When we’re talking about working Americans, rebuilding the backbone of the country, we’re talking about black folks, brown folks, women, Asia-Pacific islanders,” said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign. “We want to make clear that when we say the middle class is hurting, voters understand that’s a middle class that represents everyone.”
But Alicia Garza, a prominent black activist, said that even when candidates talked about economic issues, they tended not to acknowledge the particular challenges facing African-Americans and other groups. Criminal justice reform, for example, is an economic issue for both incarcerated people and their families, she said, but it is rarely framed that way. The cost of college hits black families harder because they earn less on average and have less accumulated wealth.
“The disconnect between black voters and candidates who are talking about economic issues is that they often talk abut them in a race-neutral way,” Ms. Garza said. “Black communities differ when we talk about economic issues because there are these added barriers.”
Ms. Garza’s organization, the Black Futures Lab, recently ran a survey of more than 31,000 black people across the country. Eight-five percent of the respondents cited “low wages that are not enough to sustain a family” as a major problem, and 76 percent said the same about a lack of affordable housing. And while most respondents identified as Democrats, many were dissatisfied with the party: One in five people in the survey expressed an unfavorable view of the party.
“We’re waiting throughout the entire campaign season for some candidate to just hit the right note, and it’s so rare that they do,” Ms. Garza said.
President Trump has often claimed that his economic policies are benefiting African-Americans, and he proclaimed on Twitter and at campaign rallies last year that the black unemployment rate had hit its lowest level on record. The rate has risen since then, however, to 6.7 percent in April from a low of 5.9 percent in May last year.
The unemployment rate for black Americans is more than double the white unemployment rate, which was 3.1 percent in April — down from 3.5 percent in April 2018. Since the recession, wages have risen more slowly for black workers than for workers of other races.