By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
SELF-AWARENESS AND FOCUSED UNITY KEY TO OPPORTUNITY, SAY ANALYSTS
The year 2019 for Blacks in America saw a contrast of optimism over steady gains by workers and businesses, and skepticism due to continued gaps in Black wealth and unemployment.
Some obstacles to Black economics ranged from missed opportunities at joining the labor force, widening racial and gender wage gaps (most dramatically for Black college graduates), and persistent racial disparities in employment outcomes, according to expert economists.
“The biggest obstacle and challenge that I’ve observed is our deep commitment to White supremacy. We tend to think of White supremacy as something that White people believe in, but actually, for White supremacy to work, Black people have to believe in it too,” said Dr. Boyce Watkins, financial scholar and entrepreneur.
It’s these old habits that we have of judging ourselves and judging each other by the degree to which we’ve been accepted by White institutions or aligned ourselves with Whiteness, that really holds us back, he explained. “It kills our potential,” Dr. Watkins told The Final Call.
Three key elements that kill Black family wealth is handing Black babies over to White educators from day one, unreasonably high student loan debt at White colleges, and turning over another $10 million worth of human capital by working at White corporations that only care about jobs, he said.
“If that doesn’t count, then moving into White neighborhoods, increasing their property value, spending money on White products and businesses, renting from White landlords, all these massive wealth transfers that are happening right beneath our noses, and so the heavy lifting is that we need a whole new system. We need a whole new infrastructure set up from the womb to the tomb that embraces Black power every step of the way,” Dr. Watkins added.
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute indicates Black college graduates are substantially more likely than their White peers to end up in non-college occupations. Since Labor Day Sep. 2 last year, Black workers were twice as likely to be unemployed as White workers overall (6.4 percent vs. 3.1 percent), according to the Washington, D.C.-based independent research think tank.
“Even black workers with a college degree are more likely to be unemployed than similarly educated white workers (3.5% vs. 2.2%). When they are employed, black workers with a college or advanced degree are more likely than their white counterparts to be underemployed when it comes to their skill level–almost 40% are in a job that typically does not require a college degree, compared with 31% of white college grads,” noted the report.
“This relatively high black unemployment and skills-based underemployment suggests that racial discrimination remains a failure of an otherwise tight labor market,” wrote authors Jhacova Williams and Valerie Wilson in their Aug. 27 report. It is part of a series entitled, “Labor Day 2019: How Well Is the American Economy Working for Working People?”
“As we know, people of color tend to be the ones who are exploited through financial traps. … People of color are more victim to payday lending, predatory interest rates, all of that,” noted author and economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, told The Final Call.
She attributes the problem to Republican Party attacks that have weakened the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s recent proposal to rewrite its 2017 final rule governing “Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans,” specifically, the rule’s requirements that lenders make sure borrowers can repay the loan before issuing it–received widespread criticism. The bureau’s proposal suggests there was insufficient evidence and legal support for the mandatory underwriting (proof of repayment) provisions in the 2017 final rule.
The Republican Party has been against the bureau’s creation anyway, arguing it, in itself, is unconstitutional, explained Dr. Malveaux.
“And this agency was created by President Barack Obama, proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, and it’s much needed! Now, we see fewer enforcements, and that’s just a bad thing,” she continued.
“Probably a C,” said the former president of North Carolina Bennett College for Women, regarding her scorecard for the state of Black economics in America. She echoed sentiments that the problem is continuing, widening wealth income and unemployment gaps. People continue to celebrate the economy itself, which they should, but also Black people are still experiencing the lowest unemployment rates ever in history.
“However, people refuse to look at the gaps, and those gaps are really important. So, we’re looking at the national picture but not the micro picture, and I think ignoring the micro picture, especially when you’re dealing with youth, when you’re dealing with poor people, then you’re basically causing a setback,” said Dr. Malveaux.
Statistically, more Blacks are in the workforce, but structurally, none of their problems have been addressed, noted Cedric Muhammad, author, political commentator, economist, and researcher.
“Our small businesses are just as small as they’ve always been, and we’re in just as much need of capital from banks or from investors as we’ve always been; and sadly, there were opportunities we didn’t take,” he stated.
For instance, he said, hard to employ young Black males could have entered the workforce through the truck driver shortage sweeping across America. The trucking industry ended 2018 short more than 60,000 drivers to meet the country’s demands for freight services, according to “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2019,” a study published by the American Trucking Associations in July.
That could grow to just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028 without substantive change, according to Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Association.
The problem stems from a surging freight economy and carriers’ need for qualified drivers. The shortage fluctuated with economic trends over the past 15 years but ballooned in 2018 to the highest level seen to date, he noted in a press release.
Add to that a steel trade shortage with construction-related, building trade jobs, that Blacks aren’t filling and developing enough, particularly apprenticeships programs that would provide men and women skills in a very short time, continued Mr. Muhammad.
“The capital the labor rate shows now includes our Black-owned banks continue to go under, to struggle. Our Black investment houses are non-existent, or they focus primarily on the principal of government. They don’t do too much at the community level. And Black farmers continue to struggle as well,” Mr. Muhammad stated.
Economists concur, without unity and an economic agenda, Blacks will continue to find themselves going in circles, especially around election time. Last year, the 100 top Black companies from technology and manufacturing to food services and media produced more than $25 billion in revenues and employed more than 70,000 workers.
“The thing is awareness is one of the first steps toward actual implementation, and so in the implementation it could be difficult because you’re fighting against really old habits, really long-held cultural habits and so it’s going to take time, but I see lots of reasons for all of us to be very optimistic,” said Dr. Watkins.
Blacks are teaching differently and planting a lot of seeds for young entrepreneurs that will do amazing things in the next 50 years.
“I see a lot of us taking pride in the right things. We no longer take as much pride in spending. We now take pride in investing. We no longer take pride in renting. We actually are starting to take pride in owning. We’re no longer taking pride in being consumers. We’re starting to take pride in being producers,” he said.
(Final Call Staff contributed to this report.)