Black-Hispanic Economic Relations in a Precarious Balance, by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D

robinson_smIf there was one thing that was certain at the beginning of the George Zimmerman trial, it was that a lot of people weren’t going to be happy with the outcome.

The extent of the damage is yet to be fully determined, but level heads can mitigate a potentially crippling situation.

In the short-term, the fears of rioting — by blacks if Zimmerman was acquitted or by Hispanics if he was found guilty — were misplaced; large-scale riots never materialized.  But there’s no doubt that there are lingering tensions in the wake of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict.

Any large-scale rioting would have been horrific.  As was seen after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and after the Rodney King trial, lawlessness and mayhem hurt our communities the most — often for years, and even decades, afterwards.

As an economist, I am obviously concerned about such lose-lose propositions.  It is never favorable when lives are damaged or lost and property is destroyed — especially when caused by a single and sometimes isolated incident that seems so much a happenstance.

Because of the Zimmerman trial, I am concerned about the future of black-Hispanic economic relations in America.

A 2008 Pew Research survey found that blacks and Hispanics tend to both say, like pretty much everyone else, that they feel more comfortable living in areas where they represent a large demographic share of the population.

In other words, familiarity appears to breed positive relations.

On the other hand, black-Hispanic gang violence raises tensions in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago.  These tensions produce distrust.

This says nothing about black-Hispanic relations in prisons across the nation, where the two ethnicities are often at loggerheads.

Parties that don’t trust each other don’t transact with each other. This is a significant problem.  And the focus now needs to be on black-Hispanic economic partnership.

Blacks (with around 1.9 million businesses) and Hispanics (with approximately 2.3 million businesses) represent fast-growing economies in the United States that have an opportunity to grow even faster if they increase their economic interaction. Distrust between these communities could cause economic growth to become stunted.

Researchers with the University of Georgia have estimated that total Hispanic spending for 2012 was $1.2 trillion.  An analysis of Nielsen data analyzed by Black Enterprise magazine predicts black spending will reach $1 trillion by 2015. Combined, this spending could represent nearly 14 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. This economic base could grow even more rapidly if black and Hispanic populations work together and increase their economic interaction.

It’s my sincere hope that the death of Trayvon Martin does not ultimately become a setback to economic interaction and growth between two of the largest and fastest-growing minority populations in our nation.

It is unfortunate that while blacks and Hispanics continue to help the nation’s economy grow, efforts to deepen and accelerate growth within their own economies may be slowed because of the Travon Martin case.

We tread on eggshells at the moment.  Blacks and Hispanics, working together, can prosper economically and at an ever-faster rate if we do not let lingering discord over the Zimmerman trial poison relations.

It’s the poorest in our communities who will unfortunately be hurt the most by such discord, and who would also benefit most from greater economic integration between the two groups

It’s a precarious balance.

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D., is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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