By Richard Muhammad
(FinalCall.com) – In energetic stump speeches, presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain regularly declare America’s best days aren’t gone. Each promises to bring the country back to good jobs, solid wages and a greater sense that the future is bright.
But will the problems with jobs and job creation be that easy to solve? Economists warned in October that a recession was looming and harder times should be expected. As the Labor Department released bleak new numbers on the job market, Goldman Sachs, Chrysler and Xerox all announced they were cutting workers by the thousands, adding to the woes of an economy beset by tighter credit and wobbly banks.
The government said new applications for unemployment insurance rose 15,000 the third week in October to a seasonally adjusted 478,000, above analysts’ estimates of 470,000. Jobless claims above 400,000 are considered a sign of recession.
When it comes to Black America’s economic condition: “It’s bad and getting worse rapidly,” said Algernon Austin, director of the program on race, ethnicity and the economy at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. “Unfortunately even for the good times for the country, generally we know the unemployment rate is typically twice that for Whites. Now that the country is in decline, Blacks are even more worse off. Right now we’re in a situation where things are going to get worse before they get better.” The latest unemployment figures showed the Black jobless rate was 11.4 percent, or twice that of Whites.
Blacks have lost valuable economic ground gained under the Clinton administration. “The recession of 2001 brought African American progress to a halt and reversed the gains Blacks made over the 1990s. The jobless recovery that followed brought no significant economic progress for African Americans,” according to “Reversal of Fortune,” a briefing paper written by Mr. Austin. It focuses on how Black gains in the 1990s were reversed between 2000 and 2007.
What is the future for Black workers and economic progress? “I’m afraid there is no easy answer that I can provide, and frankly I see it as we really need civil rights organizations to do some hard thinking and some hard work. For anything more than what Sen. Obama is suggesting, we need to change the political climate,” he said. The researcher added, the political climate can change. It would have been unheard of in the 1950s to think that a Black man could become president of the United States, he noted.
Sen. Obama has said remedies for Black disparity will have to be found in bigger federal programs, not in race-specific solutions. The Democratic Party nominee has said there isn’t enough political will to support race-based solutions.
Better economic times or increasing government programs, “unfortunately may not be enough because the Black disadvantage is so severe I am not even sure that would be enough to really produce full equality for Blacks in the U.S., but I think it would led to disproportionate benefit,” he said.
“There are opportunities for change but people and organizations have to mobilize to make it happen,” said Mr. Austin.
Officially about two million Black people are out of work, which doesn’t count those who are so discouraged they don’t seek jobs. Black men and womens are unemployed for longer periods of time and can get discouraged by a “hostile” labor market, said Mr. Austin. There are also huge gaps between the ability of Whites and Blacks with a high school diploma, GED or less to get jobs, he added. Black people have a much harder time and racism likely accounts for the disparity, said Mr. Austin. There isn’t much difference in what Black and White workers with less education would bring to a job, he argued.
“Black folks need to understand that things are not well for us in this country and they have to stand up and start doing things for themselves,” said Dr. Claud Anderson, author of “Black Labor, White Wealth,” and “Powernomics.” His argument for Black self help and preservation goes beyond simply jobs and decent places to live. Dr. Anderson argues that major disasters are looming and Blacks are particularly vulnerable.
“You don’t own or control any resources, food, water, medicines, nothing, healthcare, energy.You can’t survive and when natural disasters come like Katrina, and you have Black folk living in Katrinas all over America. Detroit is a Katrina.Columbus, Cleveland, St. Louis, all the Black, urban areas in America, there are Katrinas.People are living like Beirut and Iraq,” he said.
“They (Blacks) don’t own anything. The unemployment rate is astronomical at an almost 40 percent poverty rate; a 48 percent unemployment rate.They have a high drug and teenage pregnancy rate.They don’t own any homes, nothing. They’re totally depending on Whites and Black folk don’t get the message.They’re still playing silly games.They’re going to die,” he said bluntly.
Wilhelmina Leigh, PhD., of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Black think-tank, said the economic “cancer” eating away at the country is spreading into once safe areas–like jobs in state and local government where sizable numbers of Blacks are concentrated. No job or industry seems to be recession-proof, she said. The federal government can look at extending unemployment benefits and expanding eligibility and engaging in public works projects to create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure, like bridges and roads, she said.
It’s in America’s self-interest to find jobs for Blacks, including ex-felons, who have virtually been told they are not employable, she said. “You can’t tell somebody who’s got a hungry child at home that he shouldn’t hit somebody over the head and try to steal their wallet. You can tell them that, but it’s a harder sell than when there is some real option out there for that person,” said Dr. Leigh.
Having Blacks build an internal economy is a good idea but more difficult today, she said. Blacks want products beyond what small businesses and mom and pop shops can often provide, she said. It also means that someone has to have capital, unless things go back to a barter system, said Dr. Leigh, who holds a PhD. in economics. Capital would also be needed to get the system started and with current credit crunch that might be difficult, she added.
The green jobs forecast as a coming economic boom may be a place where Black peoples can find opportunity, said the analysts. But, again, the question is how will the industry needs be assessed and approached and who will control access points. Some green jobs will require expertise and others may be openings for less educated workers to find a place.
“We must become self-sufficient and I believe the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, a number of years ago, recommended that we that,” said Dr. Nathaniel Chism, a Black economic empowerment advocate and naturopathic practitioner. As long as Blacks are dependent, the plug can be pulled at any time and they will go down with the American system,” he said.
“You cannot continue to take resources, however you get the resources, and put them outside your community and expect your community to prosper. It’s not sustainable,” argued Dr. Chism, who said that some 98 percent of money earned by residents in his neighborhood is spent elsewhere.
Obviously some things must be brought outside the community but circulating money within the community improves its economic health, he said. Just attracting 10 percent of the $744 billion Blacks earned in 2006 could make a huge difference and things can start small, Dr. Chism said.
“We can barter with each other. If we can just start working our way,” he said. Blacks can start with urban farming and stop “eating trash,” despite what advertisers urge, to build an economy and improve health, he said. Farmers markets are another good place to start, Dr. Chism said.
Many Whites are already engaged in Community Supported Agriculture, which allows consumers to buys shares of farm products in advance. This provides cash to local farmers, dairy or organic farmers, who use the money to buy seed and pay for production costs. Once harvest or production time comes, the consumers get food baskets or dairy products, he said. The idea is to support local farmers or to reduce the environmental impact of foods that burn fuel and energy by traveling huge distances.
“If you are doing it from a Black perspective it’s ‘Black-grown and clean,’” he said. It may take some brainwashing to get Blacks moving, but some brains are dirty with the wrong things, Dr. Chism said. It’s time for a lot more action and less talked, he said.
Blacks have the financial wherewithal and the expertise to create an economy, Dr. Chism argued. “We lack the will,” he said.
(Charlene Muhammad and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)