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Julianne Malveaux

The High Cost of Injustice

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(NNPA) What if we didn’t incarcerate people who commit non-violent crimes?  Or, if we sentenced them, what if their sentences were reasonable, instead of intolerable?  What if a man who steals a $159 jacket while high gets drug treatment and a sentence of, say, two years, instead of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole?  How much would we save if legally mandated minimum sentences were modified and nonviolent drug offenses were more reasonably imposed?

Marc Mauer of he Sentencing Project says that eliminating more than 79,000 bed years, or the amount of time a prisoner uses a bed in prison, could save at least $2.4 billion.  That’s enough to send nearly a million students to college if the $25,000 covers the cost of attendance (which it does for most state schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities). It could put nearly half a million teachers in underserved K-12 schools. It could restore availability to libraries and parks.  Instead, we spend it incarcerating people, particularly those who are locked up for relatively minor crimes.

The $2.4 billion that the Sentencing Project has calculated may be a low estimate.  According to the Justice Department more than $80 billion is spent on incarceration annually. How much of this spending is unnecessary and could be easily converted to drug treatment and recovery?  Why do we find it so easy to incarcerate people but so difficult to rehabilitate them, knowing that the recidivism rates are high?

Within five years of incarceration, more than three-quarters are rearrested. Most were arrested for property crimes, not for drug offenses, or violent offenses.  Much of the property crime could be alleviated if it was easier for ex-offenders to find employment, but after incarceration, many find the doors of employment slammed in their faces.  Incarceration combined with education and societal embrace might reduce recidivism and the level of property crime.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are moving in the right direction.  First, the president moved to reform drug sentencing laws, reducing the discrepancy between crack and powdered cocaine.  This resulted in the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has yet to be scheduled for a vote in Congress and the Senate, despite bipartisan support for this legislation.  Advocates of the bill, including the ACLU, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP and many others support the legislation and have encouraged people to reach out to their Congressional representatives to push for a vote on this legislation.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, when approved, will make modifications in sentencing requirements.  Now, the US Sentencing Commission has ruled that those with drug sentences and be applied retroactively.  This will affect as many as 46,000 prisoners.  It’s not enough, but it’s a reasonable first step.  If release were combined with education and access to employment, recidivism rates would certainly decrease.

The United States represents just 5 percent of the world population, but incarcerates more than a quarter of the world’s incarcerated. Nearly half of those incarcerated in federal prisons are African American. Is there a bias here?  African Americans are as likely as Whites to commit nonviolent drug related crimes, but African Americans are far more likely to be incarcerated. The difference – the money that provides access to great legal services; maybe the attraction of a plea bargain, guilty or not, because of the prospect of an unfair sentence; maybe bias on the part of arresting officers. Whatever the cause, it seems unfathomable that African Americans and Whites commit the same crimes, but African Americans are arrested six times as frequently as Whites.

If you read a November 2013 A Living Death:  Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses from the ACLU, you won’t know whether to scream or cry.

More than 3,200 people have life sentences without parole for such minor offences such as shoplifting, trying to cash a stolen check, and threatening a police officer while handcuffed.  Some are sentenced because of sentencing guidelines, which mean judges have no choice in their sentencing.  What makes sense about giving a shoplifter more time than a murderer?

As many as 65 percent of those who have been sentenced to life without parole are African American.  According to the ACLU, “many were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency, or financial desperation.”  Only in an injustice system can this be considered “just.”

There has been some progress in making sentencing fairer. Yet much more must be done until we can claim the “justice” that our Constitution promises.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Dogs Eat Better than 1 Million Children

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(NNPA) The South African charity Feed a Child (http://www.feedachild.co.za/) chose to highlight child poverty in South Africa by portraying a little Black boy being fed like a dog by a seemingly affluent White woman. In the ad, the boy has his head on the woman’s lap, at her feet, on his knees, and licking off her fingers. The point, they say?  According to the ad’s tagline “The average dog eats better than millions of children.”

The ad ran for about five days in South Africa and its airing generated such a maelstrom. Feed a Child withdrew the ad and “unreservedly” issued an apology. Ogilvy and Mather, the international agency that produced the ad, also apologized “unreservedly.  In her apology, Alza Rautenbach says, “Like a child, I don’t see race or politics – the only thing that is important to me is to make a difference in a child’s life and to make sure that that child is fed on a daily basis.”

I wonder exactly how long this woman has been living in South Africa, considering she “doesn’t see race.”  While the institution of apartheid no longer exists, the structural basis for apartheid is alive and well, given the level of poverty, the lack of jobs, and limited opportunities for education. Either Ms. Rautenbach and her Ogilvy and Mather colleagues have their heads in the sand, or they are being disingenuous.

Not only is this ad racist, but it reinforces the tendency of some White people to associate people of African descent with animals, or as some sub-species, not human beings.  In the United States, this harks back to slavery when African Americans were seen as good enough to work to exhaustion, good enough to have sex with, but not good enough, by law, to be taught to read and write.  Not good enough to be treated equally.  In colonized parts of the African continent and Latin America, the same parallels were often made.  Europeans justified their exploitation by referring to African people (or Latin American Indian, or the people that Christopher Columbus “discovered” as “uncivilized” and less human than the colonizer. Sub-human beings.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle have been portrayed as subhuman by racist bloggers. The New York Post published a cartoon, in 2009, of a dead ape, with the caption “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill. “  After a week of protests, Rupert Murdoch issues a tepid apology.  At least the Feed A Child team chose apologize “unreservedly.”

The Feed a Child people are, at best, insensitive louts.  They aren’t the only ones at fault though.  The ad agency’s willingness to produce this ad is repugnant, and anyone who is thinking of using this agency might want to think again. There were people on the set when this ad was produced, or behind the scene in edit.  Did even one of them have made some noise, or are they so accustomed to African people being treated as animals that they had no quarrel with this offensive ad?  It suggests that there were few, if any, Africans involved in the development and production of this reprehensible ad.  Perhaps that is why Alza Rautenbach does not see color.

The goals of the Feed A Child, founded in 2010, are stated on their website.  They say they feed children “of no particular color or “ethical (sic)” group. They also say one of their goals is to “restore dignity”. Do these Feed A Child people really think it is dignified to portray an African child as a dog?

The Feed A Child organization may well have good intentions but “good intentions are not good enough.”  If they can’t respect the people they are trying to help, then they really don’t need to help. Their ad depicts the noblesse oblige than many colonized people find offensive. Instead of having an African child crawl around like a dog, why not show a full dog dish and a half-full child’s dish to make a point.  Treating a child as a dog reinforces the notion of White superiority that Caucasians like Alza Raugenbach embrace.

As for Ogilvy and Mather, they really ought to know better.  What is the purpose of having an international company if there is no international sensitivity to these matters?  Ogilvy and Mather was founded in 1948 in New York City. They’ve seen their share of social transformation.  Someone at the agency should have had the integrity to put a foot down and said “no way.”  Instead, they chose profits over people.

In the name of helping hungry children, Ms. Rautenbach has dehumanized them and Ogilvy and Mather here the instrument of their dehumanization.  These folks really ought to be ashamed, but clearly they know no shame.  Just dehumanization.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Stimulating Students During Summer

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(NNPA) It’s mid-July. Do you know if your children are learning?  Just a month ago they were eager to leave the regimentation of the daily classroom to “enjoy the summer.” A month from now, many will prepare to return to school.  Will they return ready to hit the ground running in the fall?  Or, will they struggle to catch up because their summer activities were not stimulating enough to prevent learning losses.

Student’s score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than at the beginning of the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. That organization makes a strong case that young people must be engaged in summer learning and enrichment opportunities, because they lose as much as two months of math learning, and more than two months of reading proficiency without summer engagement. Of course, lower income students experience more losses, while middle-class students may gain proficiency during the summer.

The National Summer Learning Association says that at least half of the achievement gap between lower and higher income young people is a function of unequal access to summer learning opportunities. Some youngsters don’t have summer opportunities because they don’t know about them, others because they can’t afford them, and still others because they are needed at home. Some teens are tasked with taking care of younger siblings, though they might be better served in enrichment programs that would prepare them for the next school year.  Others must choose between work and summer enrichment programs, and when money matters, work wins over enrichment. And while subsidized summer enrichment programs are available, some students are unable to participate when even modest fees are required.

I’ve not spoken of race, only income, in examining the importance of summer enrichment programs. But because African American students are more likely to be low-income than others, we know that race matters here. We also know that space makes a difference as well.  There will be a greater variety of summer enrichment programs in affluent neighborhoods, as opposed to other neighborhoods. And while programs in affluent neighborhoods may offer scholarships for those who need assistance, transportation may become a barrier.  Whether excuses or explanations, the achievement gap speaks to differential outcomes.

While summer enrichment opportunities are differentially available, with Black and Brown young people less likely to have access to opportunities than others, some organizations are doing the work to ensure that young people are intellectually engaged during the summer, enabling them to return to school ready to do their best work.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and leading light of the Children’s Defense Fund, has developed a Freedom School program that teaches young people civil rights history along with basic skills. Organizations can purchase the curriculum and send staff for training in teaching it. Thousands of young people are being positively impacted by Freedom Schools.

Lots of local programs have developed programs that have elements similar to those at the CDF Freedom Schools.  A week or so ago, I began my morning with the young people at Washington D.C.’s Southeast Tennis and Learning Center for their “Read Aloud” program.  At about 8:30 in the morning, the youngsters, whose ages range from 6 to 15, gather in a circle to hear a book read to them, and to engage in an energetic and affirming ritual. I love the read aloud program because I love looking into the eyes of these young people, to imagine the leaders they will become.

I read Faith Ringgold’s Aunt Harriett’s Underground Railroad in the Sky as selected students acted out the words, joined me in song, and applauded each other as the story came to an end.  Flashback to preadolescence – the students who played the parts of Cassie and Bebe, a sister and brother separated moving along the railroad were supposed to hug when reunited. While the young man was “up” for the hug, the young woman looked like she wanted to run in another direction.

The Read Aloud program ends with a rousing group rendition of Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside,” complete with choreographed hand gestures and motions.  Every morning, these 50 or so young’uns are affirming themselves through song. The adults who participate in the Read Aloud program are politicians and business leaders, artists and educators.  If they are anything like me, they leave uplifted by the children and their promise of resilience.

I’m encouraging those who can to help with a summer enrichment program. Spend a day, a few afternoons, and maybe more time to help provide a summer experience.  Funding helps provide great summer opportunities for our youth, and informal programs with a couple of retired teachers and a church basement can go a long way, as well.  We cannot afford is to widen the achievement gap by leaving too many of our young people unengaged this summer.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Ikea and the Gap Fill the Wage Gap

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(NNPA) President Obama would like the national minimum wage to rise to $10.10 an hour. By executive order, he has already raised the minimum wage for federal contractors.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has threatened to sue President Obama for his use of executive order, which he says circumvents Congressional authority.

Ikea said it will raise the average minimum wage to $10.76 an hour, which is an increase of 17 percent.  Ikea says its goal is to offer their workers a living wage, regardless of whether their competitors offer it.  Half of Ikea employees will get a raise, while those who already earn a living wage will not. The chain now provides other benefits, such as a 401-k match. Ikea has just 38 stores in the United States, which may minimize the impact their wage increase has on its competitors.  Still, Ikea has done the right thing and earned a competitive advantage in the areas where they have stores.

The Gap, too, has increased its wage to $9 an hour, which will rise to $10 an hour next year.  Seattle has raised its minimum wage to $15, and dozens of municipalities have also increase their minimum wage.  When employers and municipalities fail to offer a living wage, they shift a wage burden to the rest of us because those who earn the minimum wage are subsidized by federal benefits to the poor, which we all pay.

This is also true when states refuse to expand the base for Medicaid for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).  In more than 20 states, people have to earn less than $11,000, or $23,000 for a family of four. With Medicaid expansion, people can earn as much as $15,000 to qualify for Medicaid, and as much as $32,000 for a family of four. Without the Medicaid expansion, some states are saying that poverty and poor health are acceptable for some of its citizens.

The moves by Ikea and the Gap put some wage pressure on their competitors.  It also makes it clear that these companies understand that raising wages will not significantly affect their profits.  These companies also understand that better paid employees are also productive employees.  Memo to fast food and big box stores set on paying the minimum wage or little more – pay your workers a living wage.

Ikea gets it, so does the Gap.  What’s wrong with the Congress?  Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, they have constituents who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.  Why are they resisting?  Might it be because President Obama has pushed for an increase in the minimum wage?  If our President pushed for blue skies it is likely that some obstructionist members of Congress would oppose it.

If the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.90 by now, a bit higher than the amount President Obama has proposed.  The same Congress that opposes an increase in the minimum wage gets an automatic increase in their pay. This is the kind of hypocrisy that engenders indifference and contempt for our elected representatives.

Some members of Congress have insisted that only young people earn the minimum wage.  But at least 12 percent of the labor force earns the minimum wage.  One in four of them are over 20.  Sixty percent are women.  One in four of those who earn the minimum wage are parents, supporting children on wages so low that they qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).

One in six African Americans and one in five Latinos earn the minimum wage.  Nearly 35 percent of minimum wage workers have graduate from high school; another 23 percent have attended college. Some would say that minimum wage workers are mostly youth who are “training” for later work. These workers are not only young people who don’t need to get paid.  These are adults with education and training, parents, and people who work in key industries, health and education.

During the Great Recession, six-figure executives who needed an income stream accepted the minimum wage or just a little more.  There were teachers, laid off, who took a pay cut to shelve books in libraries.  They were folks who put their pride aside to earn a little money, money they said was better than the nothing they earned when laid off.

It is overtime for our congress to offer working people the same wages they get automatically.  It is overtime for our Congress to embrace a living wage, or at least a higher minimum wage.  Ikea gets it, why doesn’t Congress?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Blacks have not Recovered from the Recovery

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(NNPA) Judging from its June 18-19 meeting, the Federal Reserve is hedging its bets. It says the U.S. economy is on the mend, but more slowly than expected. They’ve reduced their estimate for economic growth and say that it will take a year or more to get to where we were six years ago.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered a starker forecast. Expected growth for the United States is about 3 percent, a level considered “normal” and “in recovery.” They projected something right above 2 percent earlier this year. Now, they say the United States economy will grow at about 1.9 percent, below robust recovery, and that it will take until 2018 to get the labor market back on track.

Meanwhile, the stock market seems to signal a healthy recovery, and surveys of human resource professionals found that more employers are offering signing and retention bonuses to get the best employees and to keep them. Obviously, the nearly 10 million people who are unemployed aren’t being offered any kind of bonuses. Most of them just want work. That’s not to mention the 3.4 million people who have not worked in half a year or more. Bonus? Please.

The economic recovery is as bifurcated as our economic reality has always been. The Occupy folks estimated it in a way that galvanized energy and spoke some truth. Does the top 1 percent of our population get all the benefits of economic growth? Just about. One of the most telling statistics deals with race and recovery. Aggregately, Whites and Asians Americans have fully recovered from economic shortfalls, African Americans have seen their wealth rebound by only 45 percent. They have lost 55 percent of wealth, bearing a disproportionate burden from this recovery.

When we parse the data by class, we learn that President Obama’s focus on the middle class leaves the poor where they have always been – at the periphery of economic progress. Until the job markets open up at entry level, instead of providing opportunities for the middle class and higher, the recovery will not trickle down. Meanwhile, there are members of Congress who truly believe that the unemployed are jobless because they want to be. These are folks who apparently refuse to read the data about the search for work.

What does economic recovery look like? It looks like vibrancy. It looks like people joyfully working. It looks like people who spend, if not freely, certainly less cautiously. They don’t have to run an algorithm in their brain before they decide that their child can have an ice cream cone. It means being able to put a few pennies aside for college possibilities. It means having a moment to exhale.

For all the talk of Wall Street exuberance and economic recovery, there are millions who are still waiting to exhale. While we mostly focus on the officially unemployed, the equally pressing concern is about those who are underemployed, working part time when they want to work full time. All of these folks are in the job search mix, and they are too often the people we ignore.

In many ways this is also a “race matters” narrative. Economic recovery looks great for some, good for others, and absolutely dismal for those at the bottom. The unofficial unemployment rate among African Americans remains at someplace near 25 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics won’t measure that, because then they will have to report the economic failure inherent in this so-called economic recovery.

The Federal Reserve and the IMF are reporting economic projections that trickle down. They say the economic recovery will not happen as quickly as they once projected, and that they have a “wait and see” attitude. The Fed is moving closer to raising interest rates, and are withdrawing from their bond buying program that fostered economic stability.

Their “wait and see” really means pulling back, which may help the overall economy. When will those on the bottom, the least, the last, and the left out, experience recovery? Until those who make public policy are prepared to deal with persistent economic bifurcation, economic recovery looks good for some, dismal as ever for others.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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