"If you are black, you're far more likely to see your electricity cut, more likely to be sued over a debt, and more likely to land in jail because of a parking ticket,"Paul Kiel wrote Dec. 31 for ProPublica in a piece headlined, "Why Small Debts Matter So Much to Black Lives."
The story also appeared Jan. 6 in the New York Times SundayReview.
"It is not unreasonable to attribute these perils to discrimination. But there's no question that the main reason small financial problems can have such a disproportionate effect on black families is that, for largely historical reasons rooted in racism, they have far smaller financial reserves to fall back on than white families.
"The most recent federal survey in 2013 put the difference in net worth between the typical white and black family at $131,000. That's a big number, but here's an even more troubling statistic: About one-quarter of African-American families had less than $5 in reserve. Low-income whites had about $375.
"Any setback, from a medical emergency to the unexpected loss of hours at work, can be devastating. It means that harsh punishments for the failure to pay small debts harm black families inordinately. Sometimes, the consequence is jail. Other times, electricity is cut, or wages garnished.
"The modern roots of the racial wealth gap can be traced back to the post-World War II housing boom, when federal agencies blocked loans to black Americans, locking them out of the greatest wealth accumulation this country has ever experienced. More recently, the bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent recession slammed minorities. In 2013, the median wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households, the widest gap since 1989.
"Earlier this year, my colleague Annie Waldman and I took a close look at debt-collection lawsuits in three major American cities. We expected to see a pattern driven by income, with collectors and credit card lenders suing people most often in lower-income areas.
"But income was just half the story. Even accounting for income, the rate of court judgments from these lawsuits was twice as high in mostly black communities as it was in mostly white ones. In some neighborhoods in Newark and St. Louis, we found more than one judgment for every four residents over a five-year period. Many were families who, knocked off their feet by medical bills or job loss or other problems, had simply been unable to recover. . . ."
"Lagos is an African megacity humming with chaotic energy,"Finbarr O’Reilly reported Monday for the New York Times "Lens" blog.
"Potholed roads and even the city's superhighways are crowded with traffic, overloaded vendors, earsplitting noise, choking pollution, piercing colors and powerful smells. Extreme wealth is set against a backdrop of grinding poverty, hope battles despair, daily acts of kindness and generosity are offset by cruelty, greed and corruption, and creativity is inspired by necessity because of the city's broken infrastructure and the looming threat of ruin. Between these extremes, and usually to the background drone of a generator, exist the rich and textured lives of some 20 million people.
"Lagos is long overdue for a book that captures this kaleidoscope of random energy, disorder and color. 'Africa Under the Prism,' just published by Hatje Cantz, gathers work shown during the first five years of LagosPhoto, an international arts festival begun in 2010 to reflect African perspectives and realities.
"The festival's aim is to challenge Afro-pessimism and the visual overrepresentation of Africa as a continent of the dying, desperate and helpless. . . ."