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Let Us Not Be Fooled By A Few Glimmers of Hope

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A few months back, Marc Morial of the Urban League, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP and I met with President Obama in the White House on a day that could best be described as troublesome and unpredictable.

It was a precarious afternoon as we battled our way through a blizzard that literally blanketed DC and left it functioning like a near ghost town. But on that cold February day, the inclement weather was not the grave challenge; rather, it was the pressing realization that African-Americans were bearing the brunt of a catastrophic economic downturn. And as fears of a double-dip recession emerge, some four months later, sadly, our work is just beginning.

Since 2008, the United States – and the world for that matter – has been consistently fixated on the pandemic of a financial crisis.

As high unemployment, housing foreclosures and lack of job growth permeated the mainstream, the average man began paying attention to a phenomena that was well in to play in certain communities long before the collapse on Wall St.

Prior to the media focusing on the economic constraints in middle-class America, African Americans were already significantly unemployed and underemployed. In a city like New York alone, nearly 50% of Black men were found to be unemployed way back in 2004, according to a study by the Community Service Society.

That’s one out of every two Black men between the ages of 16 and 64 in a city that prides itself on diversity, acceptance and opportunity not found elsewhere in the country. If this was the case in New York, and if this was the horrendous reality several years back, I cannot even put in to words, the dire situation today in our communities all across the nation.

Lately, we hear news of a stagnating jobless rate, or spurts of economic growth, but let us not be fooled by a few glimmers of hope into thinking that people – especially marginalized people – are on the proverbial road to recovery.

As the Labor Department reported last week of adding some 41,000 jobs, the unfortunate reality was that many of these new hires are simply temporary.

As census workers are employed to collect data and other project-based jobs only last a few months at best, the larger issue remains ever troubling. And despite the President’s best efforts to spur job creation, and stall or halt an economic downturn, many are warning that this recent upside will quickly descent back to an even larger downfall.

In finance terms, it’s referred to as a double- dip recession: when the GDP slides back to negative after a short positive growth. No one of course wishes for such a horrific situation, but we must, we must be prepared for the unfortunate possibility that it may occur. If the community was forecast to witness record-breaking unemployment back at the top of this year, what will happen to us if a double-dip recession does in fact take place? As families struggle to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads, what can we as a collective do to bring about change that will in the end, help us all? Just last week, Bank of America agreed to pay $108 million to Countrywide Financial Corporation (its subsidiary) after the Federal Trade Commission charged it with collecting unwarranted fees from overwhelmed homeowners.

This initial move in the right direction will hopefully deliver some of this settlement money to homeowners that suffered under predatory lending practices. And although this is joyous news, it is still only a fraction of the solution to a dilemma that is as complex as the structural hierarchy of the country.

President Obama understood the fierce urgency of now and made it a point to meet with Morial, Jealous and myself in February. But in order to combat the staggering disparity among the haves and have-nots, we all need to work together to level the playing field. If economic predictions turn out to be true and a double-dip recession does in fact ensue, we must be prepared with effective mechanisms for salvaging not only ourselves, but also our neighbors. The current impact of the financial crisis is a human rights issue and we all must stand in unison and actively bring about the change for which we seek today – and tomorrow.

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