Racial inequality is widening in the current economic crisis, leaders of social justice groups warned in a national phone forum this week.

Under the theme “Race and Recession,” the Compact for Racial Justice forum, April 14, discussed how communities of color are being impacted. It was part of series of conference calls that hopes to strengthen the bargaining position of people of color and ensure that economic policies do not leave them behind.

Dom Apollon, research director with the Applied Research Center, moderated the call and got right to the point. Noting that the country was 84 days into President Barack Obama’s administration and 17 months after the official beginning of the current recession, he said, “Yet people of color continue to be pushed to the bottom. The current economic crisis continues to expand racial inequalities in our society.”

Jose Garcia, associate director for research and policy with DEMOS, a national public policy center, pointed out that “traditionally it’s communities of color that are left behind when it comes to sharing the wealth.” The present credit structure, with a history of discriminatory practices, continues to deny resources to minority families in dire need, he said. “Deregulation has been more costly for people of color, financial services do not exist in our communities and there is an increase of predatory lending.”

Garcia noted the level of credit card debt for many families of color is higher than their earned income, which makes it very difficult for them to stay afloat. Buying a car or a home, or paying for higher education is not possible for many today, he said.

“More and more Blacks and Latinos are using credit cards to pay for basic necessities,” Garcia said. “It’s important that we deal with this problem now.”

“It is up to us to try and make the case, especially during these hard economic times, that these historic inequities are unacceptable,” he said.

Bertha Lewis, CEO and chief organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said regardless of whether one calls it a recession or a depression, the situation is dire for African Americans and Latinos.

“We throw around the ‘R’ word and the ‘D’ word but what all of this means is that we are in an economic depression,” she said.

She said ACORN has been “on the front lines … fighting since 1999 against the mortgage industry and predatory lending where Blacks and Latinos are the initial targets.”

“Time and time again,” she added, “families of color are steered into taking out bad sub-prime loans.”

Lewis said ACORN members refer to a saying they learned from being out on the streets – “Black and poor, you pay more.”

“People need to understand that there is an attack on poor people and specifically people of color,” Lewis said. Immigrants in particular, she noted, are targeted for subprime loans. “Immigrants are the worst victims of predatory lending and are suffering three times more than any others right now,” she said.

“We have got to stop this foreclosure crisis and we must continue to defend families from being evicted from their homes,” Lewis said.

“Not everyone is going to be able to own a home but everyone should be allowed the opportunity to receive affordable quality housing,” she said.

Lewis called for strong legislation to reinforce President Obama’s efforts to deal with the foreclosure problem.

She urged people to sign up to be home defenders and to call lawmakers telling them not to water down President Obama’s initiatives.

“We have to correct the last eight years of economic irresponsibility,” she said.

All the speakers on the call agreed that now is the time, despite the economic crisis, to fight for comprehensive policies that end discrimination, for immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, and stronger labor laws.

“If not now, then when?” asked Lewis. “If not us, then who?”

“We have got to be on the streets, doing the research, in the courts and board rooms because we are fed up and the time is now to support the Obama administration,” she said.

“Yes, this is the right thing to do,” Lewis emphasized, saying, “We must keep on fighting alongside Obama” for federal stimulus efforts, health care reform and education. “The ultra-right forces are not resting and we have to make sure the Obama policies are passed and put into action.”

plozano @ pww.org