The first decade of the new millennium (i.e., 2000-2009) has been one of uncertainty and instability. Economic growth has averaged slightly over 2% per year since 2000, compared to 3% per year during the previous two decades and 4% in the 1960s (U. S. Department of Commerce, 2009
). Following the mid-1990s, housing prices soared, increasing on average nearly 50% after two decades of stability. Since then, the twelve-month change in nominal house prices has turned negative nationwide for the first time since the Great Depression and mortgage loan foreclosures have soared (OECD, 2008
), underscoring the significant economic distress in the U.S. as the decade draws to a close. A number of trends further demonstrate these adverse changes in the economy.
For example, the total unemployment rate
among those aged 16 years and over rose from 4% in 2000 to 9.7% during June and July of 2009. By the end of 2009, the national unemployment rate was over 10% and the underemployment rate was around 16% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009
); these figures reflect the highest level of unemployment since the severe recession of the early 1980s (Gomstyn, 2009
; Irwin & Shin, 2009
). Although unemployment increased across all racial and ethnic groups during the 2000s, unemployment was experienced disproportionately by African Americans and Hispanics. Problems with employment are reflected in levels of family income
. From 1995 to 2000, median family income for all families increased from $56,971 to $63,430, followed by a decrease to $61,976 in 2005, and then another decrease in 2008 to $61,521 (in 2008 dollars; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). However, these trends have varied by race and family structure. Whereas White families saw median income decrease from $70,317 in 2000 to $70,070 in 2008, African American families saw a decrease from $42,105 to $39,879 in the same period, and Hispanic family wages decreased from $43,063 to $40,466 (in 2008 dollars; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
In 2008, mother-headed (single-parent) families, father-headed (single-parent) families, and traditional male-as-breadwinner families also had median incomes that were less than they had been in 2000 (in 2008 constant dollars; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). Married-couple families with both spouses working earn more than any other family structure. In contrast, the median income of mother-headed families was less than half that of married couple families throughout the 2000s. Father-headed households fared slightly better. The median income for families with and without children under 18 was very similar in 2000 ($63,478 and $63,388, respectively); however, since then the wages for families with children have dropped, while families without children reached a high in 2007 of $65,940 (in 2008 dollars; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). Also important, the 2000s saw a continuation in the structure of income distribution
established in the 1990s, which strongly benefited the upper classes. The top five percent’s share of income grew from 14.6% in 1980 to 20.5% in 2008. At the same time, the lowest quintile’s share has fallen from 5.3% in 1980 to its current share of around 4% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). Most remarkable, the top 20% of families account for almost 50% of aggregate income in the U.S.
Race and gender
continued to influence the economic circumstances of individuals and families during the past decade. Although the gender gap between women’s and men’s median annual earnings reached an all time low, with women making 77.8% of men’s income for full-time workers in 2007 compared to 71.6% in 1990, a significant gender gap continues to exist. Moreover, racial and ethnic minorities have not seen gains to the same degree as women. African American family income, for instance, was 56.0% of White family income in 1990 compared to 56.9% in 2008 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). The statistics for families with children under 18 living in poverty are similarly dismal. All racial groups for which there are complete data showed increases in the poverty rate
from 2000 (12.7%) to 2008 (15.7%), yet the contrasts between groups are stark. In 2000, 7.7% of White families with children lived in poverty, while 25.3% of African American and 23.3% of Hispanic families with children had incomes below the poverty line. By 2008, this had grown to 9.3% of White families, 29.6% of African American families, and 26.8% of Hispanic families (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009
). For the first decade of this century, then, it appears that almost all families have suffered economically, but ethnic minority families have suffered the most.