By James Clingman
Taken every five years and published in phases over two or three years, the Economic Census of Black-owned businesses has finally been released. It contains information captured in 2012 on Black businesses and those owned by others; it also contains information on revenues and employees within those businesses.
At first take, the numbers are astounding, but a closer analytical review may cause the reader to question our economic status in this country and the progress we must make in order to reach parity and claim a proportionate share of business in America. This article celebrates the progress we have made by starting new businesses, but it will also dissect some of those data and offer a few solutions to the problems they present.
A comparison of the 2007 vs. the 2012 Black business stats shows an increase in firms from slightly more than 1.9 million to 2.6 million; annual revenues for Black firms went from $135.7 billion to $187.6 billion; Black firms with paid employees went from 106,566 to 110,786; the number of employees within Black firms increased from 909,552 to 1,045,120; and the number of Black firms without employees (sole proprietorships) went from 1,815,298 to 2,482,382.
If you get nothing else from this article, please let the previous paragraph sink into your brain. Analyze the numbers and draw your own conclusions about our economic status in this nation. The simple comparison between 2007 and 2012, if looked at critically, should lead the reader to ask, for instance: “How is it that with a $1.2 trillion aggregate income among Blacks, our businesses have only $187.6 in annual receipts?” Another reasonable question to ask: “Why such a dearth of Black businesses that have employees and such and a preponderance of one-person businesses?”
While I don’t want your eyes to glaze over from all the stats, let me point out just one more set. There are 1.9 million Asian firms in the U.S. with annual receipts of $793.5 billion. Indian-Asian firms, specifically, number 382,521 yet command annual receipts of $251 billion. Hispanics have 3,320,563 firms that earn more than $517 billion annually. Crunch the population numbers and see what you find. That’s it, no more stats.
You can look at the entire census report for yourself and see the numbers for all groups across all categories. The larger message in this latest information is not only the celebratory aspect of entrepreneurship and business start-ups among Black people, but also the fact that we do not support our businesses to the degree we should – and can, with $1.2 trillion in our pockets – and we are not growing our businesses to the point of being able to hire others.
Please let this economic information marinate in your mind for a while. It is vital to our economic growth and our collective economic empowerment. We can use these latest data to boost ourselves beyond mere discussions that always include terms like “Black buying power.” Until we harness that so-called “power” and leverage it to our own benefit, it will continue to be power only for those with whom we spend it. And right now, we are not spending very much of it with Black-owned businesses.
Caveat: Don’t get so hung-up on comparing Black stats to those of other groups except as a measurement of proportionality. Those groups arrived at where they are via other routes and means. They did not suffer the mistreatment that Black endured under slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes, general market and ownership restrictions, lack of access to credit markets and business subsidies, and the list goes on. My only reason for including those few in this article is to point out the fact that they are taking care of their own by not only starting businesses but by growing them and hiring their own people.
Our charge must be to do much better than we are doing right now. We must stop relying on politics and politicians to pull us out of the ditch that many of them dug for us and threw us into. Our charge is to be much better stewards of our $1.2 trillion by cutting way back on what we buy and from whom we buy it. Our charge is to build more businesses to scale and begin hiring hundreds of thousands of Black people, as economist Thomas Boston has called for, as well as many others. A great website to keep up with these data is Brother Akiim DeShay’s Black Demographics.com
The numbers are out, y’all. Don’t sleep on them; act upon them. They ain’t lying.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.