Once again, disturbing statistics have come from the government. Once again, the question being asked is what the figures portend for the country’s overall economy.
Once again, as it has been for the startling figures on housing foreclosures, a lot of people are being hurt, and once again, the burden is falling on people of color.
In December, the jobless rate for African Americans was the highest in 16 months; for Latinos it was the highest rate in over two years. Describing what it termed "The swift deterioration in the job market," the New York Times noted, "The trend was pronounced for teenagers, blacks and Hispanics, for whom the rate increase for the month was triple the increase for whites." Dean Baker’s Jobs Byte column put it succinctly: "The rise in unemployment hit blacks and Hispanic workers especially hard, with both groups seeing a rise of 0.6 percent in their unemployment rates to 9.0 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively."
For all intents and purposes, job growth in the nation ground to a halt as last year came to an end. The unemployment rate rose to 5.0 percent, the rate of increase, the biggest in over six years. The number of people employed part-time because they had no choice increased over December and the number who had become discouraged and drifted out of the labor market rose 32 percent over December 2006.
For no one was the news bleaker than for young African Americans for whom it keeps getting worse. Back in September 2006, when the overall unemployment dipped a bit, settling at 4.6 percent, the unemployment rate among African Americans between 16 and 19 years old rose
12 percent to 32.2 percent. Overall teenage joblessness was 16 percent at the time, but the black teenage rate was seven times the national average. As one report noted at the time, "This translates into well over a quarter of a million (267,000) African American teenagers who are actively seeking employment but are having a hard time getting their foot in the door."
In December, the jobless rate for young African Americans had risen to 34.7 percent.
"Last to be hired, first to be fired," has been repeated so often it sounds like a clichÃ©. But nearly all black people have heard it and believe it. As the job stats make clear, in today’s world of globalization, deregulated capitalism and U.S. deindustrialization, it is an ever present and even growing reality. As inequality in the society increases and the economy runs into trouble African Americans and Latinos feel the effects disproportionately.
What is even more disturbing is that the worsening jobs picture takes place against the backdrop of the toll being taken by the home mortgage crisis – or, more appropriately, the general financial crisis.
As noted in this space months ago, the still largely untold story of this period is the devastation the housing market collapse is having not just on mostly working class individuals and families, but on the whole of the African American community.
The mortgage crisis is "destroying African American wealth," Judge Greg Mathis, a vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier in September. "More of our families – African American families, hardworking families – are falling prey to loans that were never any good," continued Mathis, adding that the mortgage crisis was "chipping at the hard-earned wealth our people are building." He warned that if action were not urgently taken, the rash of foreclosures "will seriously deplete the resources of the African American community" and "the wealth gap between whites and African Americans will only grow and the economic development of the African American community will be set back several decades."
We ignore the political economy of the African American community at our peril.
What I find most astonishing is that the economic assault on the African American community produces a relative dearth of indignation. It doesn’t seem to have any impact on the thinking of those academics and entertainers so quick to lecture black working people about supposed moral defects and continue to insist that breakdowns in social relations cause inequality – rather than the other way around.
Another disturbing thing is how the country’s looming economic crisis is being dealt with in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Ironically, the Bush Administration reportedly is drawing up contingency plans for dealing with the economy as the reality of the recession becomes ever more obvious. However, none of the major candidates of the two major parties (or, for that matter, the minor ones) have much to say. Even the two candidates who have spoken forthrightly about the economic woes facing working people (Edwards, Kucinich), and the havoc created by the policies of the Bush Administration, have not come up with proposals to deal with the severe crisis nearly everyone agrees is on the horizon. And the Congressional leaders? It is said they are working on a stimulus program. Quietly.
African Americans have a special interest in the present economic situation. A reasonable and justifiable call today would be that all the candidates seeking votes in the black community should have a jobs program, a plan to create employment, including public works, infrastructure upgrading and conversion to green or environmentally friendly production and service provision. There should also be a provision for some form of unemployment insurance for first time job seekers. Such demands should have the support and encouragement of all who support economic justice, solidarity and social harmony.
And the wars must end. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have so far run up a cost of half a trillion dollars and counting.
"On Dr. King’s birthday 40 years ago, he spoke on the triple evils of racism, capitalism and militarism," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the NNPA News Service last week.
"And today it’s still racism, capitalism without checks and balances and militarism that’s eating up our budget and still undermining our ability to grow. Those triple evils remain real."
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.