Ray-Ray, Boo, Chico, Pookie and Today’s Political Economy

African-American Unemployment

Jamal Randle, from left, Loren Cowling, and Dave Jackson fill out applications for positions at a new bar and restaurant in Detroit, Sept. 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

African-American Unemployment Dips to 15.3%

Over at Jack and Jill Politics, author Jill Tubman took note of the positive aspects of the country’s employment statistic for February citing figures from the Grio: “Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent – a nearly two-year low.” African-American unemployment went down to 15.3 percent and black youth declined sharply to 38.4 percent, “but remains the highest of any group,” she wrote. “The good news – some of your cousins have actually found jobs. Have Ray-Ray, Boo and Chico finally gotten off your couch?” “So that all sounds nice, don’t it?” Tubman continued. “Except did you notice how African-American unemployment is double that than the average and how 40 percent – close to half! – of black teens are out of work? Which means Pookie may be staying in your spare bedroom a mite longer, n’est pas?”

The bad news, the very perceptive Tubman wrote on the valuable website, “is that the old saying that when America catches a cold, Black America gets the flu remains in full effect” and there is only “a small hope” in the stats. “Where is the job training and help for college our community needs? Pell Grants – college financial aid directed at the poorest of the poor – are targeted for cuts by both the Obama administration and the Tea Party. Government jobs, traditionally a haven for African-Americans due to lower barriers to entry, are on the chopping block as state budgets crash and unions implode. Will hard-working teachers in inner city schools be forced to find new ‘service’ jobs serving sandwiches at Subway?”

Oh, if only such information and observations were more widely available. If only the big pundits in the major mass media saw and expressed thing as clearly. Unfortunately, the alarm Tubman expresses is – as far as I can tell – mostly restricted to a handful of African American commentators around the country, a media outlets big and small. However, what she write underscores something that should produce wider indignation: The economic situation facing African Americans is perilous and nearly everything being contemplated in Washington and state capitals around the country seem destined to make matters worse.

Take these examples:

Public Employment

While the recent decrease in the overall unemployment rate is good news for some, the massive layoffs being visited upon states and cities across the country in response to the ongoing economic crisis is not. This is particularly true in state and municipalities where public workers and their unions are under assault. It is also especially true for African American and other people of color.

Almost anyone in the African American community is quite aware of the role of public employment in black economic life. From early on many of the most secure jobs, those that had buttressed what some would call the “middle class” status of black workers, have been in public employment, be it at the Post Office, the transit system or the DMV. My first full time job was civil service clerk, a position from which my hard-working mother retired.

“For black men, the public sector—everything from police officers and firefighters to sanitation workers and government clerks—is the largest employer, providing 18 percent of jobs,” observes Nina Martin of New America Media “For black women, it’s the No. 2 employer, accounting for 23.3 percent of jobs. By comparison, the public sector employs 14.2 percent of white male and 19.8 percent of white female workers.”

The attacks on public sector workers will disproportionately affect blacks and women, researcher Steven Pitts recently told Martin. African Americans are 30 percent more likely to have jobs in the public sector, said Pitts, an economist at the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of California, Berkeley. One in five African-American workers are employed in public sector jobs, as opposed to one in six white workers and one in ten Latino workers.

“The assault on public-sector employment could not come at a worse time for blacks, who have been much harder hit by job losses—and cuts in the social safety net—than the workforce as a whole,” said Pitts. He might have added that because of the hardly-over Great Recession, the African American community’s total economic worth declined and public workers layoffs will be still another hit.

“If you talk with people engaged with the black community, you know that the public sector is an important niche of black employment,” Pitts said. “Despite all the talk about cutbacks, no one has been talking about how this would have a disproportionate effect on the black community.”

“A lot of times, when people think about racial discrimination, they think about someone in a Klan sheet,” Pitts told Martin. “It’s important to understand that even if someone like Scott Walker does not express an overt prejudice toward blacks, their policies still can have racial impacts that are unconscious and widespread.”

Foreclosures and the Social Safety Net

As has been documented many times, African Americans, Latinos and Asian have been hit disproportionately hard by the home mortgage crisis. That means that the precariousness of black homeowners increases as the number of instances grows in which the value of people’s homes becomes less than the amount of the mortgage, situations referred to as “underwater.”

Researchers say that during the last quarter of 2010 about 11.1 million households, or 23.1 percent of all mortgaged homes, were underwater, up from 22.5 percent, or 10.8 million households, in the previous quarter.

“It’s a tough time for people in minority and immigrant communities and we see it in our courts every day,” Charles Small, Chief Clerk for civil matters in the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn told Tony Best of Carib News this month. “People in the Caribbean immigrant community who are pursuing the American dream of homeownership are really feeling it.”

“With unemployment in Black and Hispanic communities hovering between 13 to 15 percent, Small and other court officials are reporting a deluge of foreclosure cases, applications for evictions, judgments for unpaid credit card debts and efforts by tenants to force their landlords to provide heat, make repairs or otherwise ensure their properties are in livable condition,” wrote Best.

According to Best, in Brooklyn alone, there are about 15,000 foreclosure cases in the courts or arbitration. “These are tough times and we see it in the cases for foreclosures, unpaid debt and landlords who have not been paid the rents due to them and the tenants who are fighting evictions,” said a court official in the Bronx. “Minorities are the hardest hit because they are feeling the brunt of the unemployment situation.”

Income Inequality and Financial CrisisMeanwhile in Washington, axe-wielding Republican lawmakers are determined to slash what meager assistance there is for people caught in the mortgage crisis.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R – Alabama), “are halfway toward their goal of killing four federal programs meant to prevent home foreclosures,’ wrote Mary Orndorff of the Birmingham News Sunday. Last week, the body voted, mostly along partisan lines, to kill the Emergency Mortgage Relief Program and the FHA Refinance Program in the name of deficit reduction.

Eight Democrats voted with the majority while two Republicans voted against it.

The House also voted last week to eliminate the FHA Refinance Program that is aimed to give assistance to people whose homes have lost significant value. Votes were slated this week ending the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

These actions have attracted very little media attention although they are threats to the livelihoods and survival of millions of working people. One explanation for this dearth of coverage will be that the GOP sponsored measures are unlikely to get past the Senate and there is always the threat of a Presidential veto. However, in today’s Washington politics the ever-present scenario is the Republicans pass something outrageous, the White House negotiates it, and they come up with a “compromise.”

‘The president and his aides know that the G.O.P. approach to the budget is wrongheaded and destructive,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote March 11. “But they’ve stopped making the case for an alternative approach; instead, they’ve positioned themselves as know-nothings lite, accepting the notion that spending must be slashed immediately – just not as much as Republicans want.

‘Mr. Obama’s political advisers clearly believe that this strategy of protective camouflage offers the president his best chance at re-election – and they may be right. But that doesn’t change the fact that the White House is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of our deficit debate.”

Ray Ray and the others could well end up on the couch more than a mite longer.

Over 1.2 million young adults moved home with their parents from 2005 to 2010, notes Venessa Wong, a lifestyle and real estate reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek. The reason? Rents are soaring.

In 2009, rents fell 5.9 percent: in 2010 they rose 4.2 percent, compared to an overall consumer prices that climbed only 1.6 percent. Citing figures from the research group AXIOMetrics, Wong notes that “last year was one of the best periods for landlords over the past 15 years.”

Furthermore, “Renter households are unwinding from two- and three-bedroom units into one-bedroom units after many tenants doubled up in 2009 to save money,” the researchers told Wong.

Wong writes that the metropolitan areas with the biggest rent increases are Greenville, S.C. (11.2 percent), Chattanooga, Tenn. (10.4 percent), Savannah, Ga., (8.4 percent) and Portland, Ore. and San Jose, Ca. (close to 8 percent). The reason for the increasing rent rates is simple: the still soaring foreclosures are forcing more people onto the rental market and high unemployment is dissuading workers from buying homes. Landlords are only doing what landlords have done throughout recorded history: charging whatever the market will bear (except in fortunate areas that retain some form of rent control or stabilization).

Surveying the scene Tubman wrote, “All for what — to prop up a bloated military budget and fund a war far away that most Americans think we should have stopped fighting years ago? We are wasting our money and bankrupting our future. A mind is a terrible thing to waste indeed.

Carl Bloice“Don’t get me twisted. I think the economic stimulus probably helped save the global economy and put off the worst hurt. We have Obama to thank for that. But while Wall Street has made a big comeback, it’s been on the backs and at the expense of those who were fleeced. Black America is picking up the tab whether it’s on the no job front or the subprime mortgages we were sold — it ain’t fair and it ain’t right. And we still look to the Obama administration to help make it right. Because if our boats rise, so will a lot of other boats. I, for one, am still a believer yet am still waiting to see how the Obama administration will make a dent in black unemployment and ensure stronger futures for us and for all Americans who have been hit hard during the Great Recession.”

“We must continue to Hope for Change…

It springs eternal.

Carl Bloice

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