by James W. Breedlove
While the contentious debate continues over the deplorable state of America’s economy and how to fix it one thing is certain: Blacks are still riding in the nation’s economic caboose despite the Administration’s massive stimulus efforts.
The statistics tell a depressing story. Black joblessness is hovering well above the national average and is nearly twice that of whites. The unemployment rate for blacks was 16.5 percent in January, compared to a 9.7 percent national rate and 8.7 percent for whites.
In light of this dire situation NACCP chief executive Benjamin Todd Jealous, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and National Urban League president Marc Morial met with President Barack Obama purportedly to discuss ways to improve economic opportunities for Blacks by spending money initially reserved for bank bailouts on areas suffering from chronically high unemployment. Their efforts were supported by the CBC chairperson, Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
While the efforts of the three civil rights leaders was no doubt made in earnest the potential for significant results has an extremely low probability. The post meeting statements of the attendees and historical precedent are supportive of this conclusion.
The meeting did not provide any indication of hope in the form of initiatives or specific promises of assistance. In fact the President did not make any comment on the meeting or give it any sense of urgency by making a joint statement with the attendees.
But the president has consistently said he shouldn’t be expected to create policies exclusively for the African-American community. “The only thing I cannot do is, by law I can’t pass laws that say I’m just helping black folks,” Obama told American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan in December. Strangely enough the 43 previous presidents found a way to help their own in spite of the need to help all the people.
The three leaders discussed trying to get a jobs bill through Congress.
Mr. Jealous said, “It needs to be passed. It’s not enough for the Republicans in the Senate to say ‘no, no, no’ when the people are suffering. That’s our focus right now.” The question: what leverage does Mr. Jealous or any black organization have with obstructionist Republican congress members?
Forty years of waiting for a government economic Marshall Plan to revitalize distressed black communities should send a strong message to Blacks that something different needs to be done if their economic fate is to change.
One thing that must change is the lack of a quantified Black economic strategy that defines what needs to be done. The buzzwords ‘economic development’ and ‘job creation’ are meaningless without a specific plan to measure progress against. The three black advocates that met with the President did not have a plan for any of the distressed areas of concern.
Using a South Dallas Metropolitan Statistical Area as an example, assume the Black Community decides to develop as part of an overall economic development and job creation program a strategy that focused on bringing the black unemployment rate into parity with the majority rate. Except for a difference in scale factor the development process, which could be used for any urban community, would be quantified as follows.
Census data indicates the average unemployment rate for the Dallas MSA is 6.0 percent while Black unemployment is about 12 percent. To achieve parity, set an objective the creation of enough jobs to make the Black unemployment rate 6 percent. How many jobs will it take?
Bureau of Labor unemployment tables indicate that the number of Blacks unemployed in the South Dallas MSA total 22,419. For parity to be achieved the Black unemployment must be reduced to 11,197. How many businesses are needed to absorb 11,197 workers?
Census data shows the average small business employs four persons. Therefore, to create 11,197 jobs would require establishing approximately 3,000 equivalent businesses. The term equivalent considers that an existing business can expand in multiples of 4 employees.
Next we need to know how many dollars it takes to create 3,000 businesses. At an average investment of $100,000 per business the cost would be $300 million. If this were made into a five-year plan it would require a $60 million per year infusion into South Dallas without considering inflation.
With a quantified economic development plan Black leaders are in a position to educate and galvanize the community so that no matter what group, organization, or individual a politician meets with the same request for funds can be put on the table. Similar goals can be quantified for housing, schools, crime prevention, infrastructure and any other elements needed to revitalize our communities.
Without quantified plans the very process of asking for economic development and job creation assistance becomes a sham and worse an ongoing source of frustration for hard-pressed Black communities.
In reality, federal assistance should be an adjunct to economic programs initiated by blacks. Millions of dollars are spent each year by black organizations on award shows, conferences, conventions, and lavish parties that could be better used as economic development and job creation seed capital.
Mr. Jealous, Rev. Sharpton, Mr. Morial and Congresswoman Lee it’s time for our black leaders to get to work on pragmatic solutions blacks control and not wishful benevolence.
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