Black Public Scholars

December 8, 2009

One Nation?

Filed under: black public intellectuals, black public scholars — Staff @ 6:56 pm

Last week members of the Congressional Black Caucus took President Obama to task for his inattention to the high rate of black unemployment – a rate much higher than the overall rate. By Friday, some progress on the unemployment front had been reported – the rate was down to 10 percent in November, from the October high of 10.2 percent. African American unemployment, though, was at the astounding level of 15.6 percent. Why don’t the high levels of African American unemployment deserve special attention?

President Obama says he is working for our entire nation, and that when unemployment rates drop, they will drop for everyone. Perhaps that is what he has to say. But even Ray Charles can see the disproportionate unemployment burden that the African American community is carrying. Targeted public policy is the only way to close the unemployment rate gap.

Our nation has a history of targeting public policy. When it appeared that banks were especially imperiled, we bailed banks, but not other industries out. Indeed, there was much debate about why bankers should get $700 billion when others also faced challenges. The faulty logic that applied was that banks had special challenges at the beginning of the recession, and that the money spent bailing out banks would have ripple effects throughout our economy. Next, there were special provisions made for the housing industry, with bailouts and concessions made to those who had mortgages they could not pay. Again, the logic was that these citizens have special roles in our society and economy. Renters were left out of these special financial provisions. We targeted homeowners.

Why, then, is it such an anathema to target African Americans? Believe me, if it were Wall Street brokers with an unemployment rate of 15.6 percent, one and a half times the overall rate, there would be some special program developed for those brokers! Someone would take to the floor of Congress to speak of the special plight of those brokers and to wax eloquent about why they deserve a break. The logic that when the overall rate drops, the broker rate will also drop, would be scoffed at! Can’t you envision the special pleading that would go to save the brokers?

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