AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The viral video that sparked nationwide protests this weekend captured an individual tragedy - the death of a black man at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. But George Floyd's death is set against a backdrop of economic inequality that has long shadowed race relations in this country. We're going to talk about that now for a few minutes with NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So we've been hearing an enormous amount of frustration in the last week about yet another black man dying in police custody. Can you just break down for us how economics plays into that frustration?
HORSLEY: There is certainly frustration with the deadly tactics of police. But there's also frustration about the underlying circumstances that in the richest country on Earth, a man could lose his life because he's suspected of passing a counterfeit 20-dollar bill. We know that African Americans are worse off than whites in this country by almost every economic measure. Andre Perry, who studies race and inequality at the Brookings Institution, says that means blacks in general are more vulnerable to any kind of economic downturn.
ANDRE PERRY: Black folk live in communities where a single economic shock can really send the entire economic hopes astray.
HORSLEY: And, of course, right now, we're all living through a giant economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
HORSLEY: People throughout the country are on edge. And that has just added more dry kindling to the woodpile where this match has landed.
CHANG: Well, about the pandemic - I mean, we know that African Americans have suffered disproportionate health problems during this entire outbreak. But economically, how are they faring, relatively speaking, during this time?
HORSLEY: Not well. Of course, workers of all races have seen a spike in unemployment during the pandemic. The black unemployment rate has jumped into double digits, as have other rates. But the black-white gap hasn't gotten noticeably worse during the last couple of months.
HORSLEY: We do know, however, African Americans who are working are more likely to be in essential frontline jobs. And that puts them at greater risk of infection.
CHANG: So how does Minneapolis, where this all started, stack up when it comes to inequality or when it comes to discrimination?
HORSLEY: The racial divide in Minneapolis is pretty stark both in terms of income and homeownership. In fact, the gap between white and black homeownership in Minneapolis is one of the largest in the country. And that matters because for a lot of families, owning a home is the main building block of wealth and stability. If blacks aren't able to buy homes, they're missing out on an important stepping stone. Nationwide, African Americans did make some gains in homeownership in the '90s and early 2000s. But those were really wiped out by the subprime mortgage crisis. And Andre Perry says that kind of structural inequality feeds into the frustration of the people who are protesting George Floyd's death.
PERRY: That action really symbolized the knee on the neck of black homeowners and renters. It represents the employers who don't provide the kind of benefits and wages that will lift African American communities.
HORSLEY: Now, Perry notes these demonstrations are taking place five months before a national election. And he says this is a good opportunity for policymakers to talk about how they see policing and how they would address these longstanding economic challenges.
CHANG: That is NPR's Scott Horsley.
Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.