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Julianne Malveaux

Economy is Still Recovering

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During 2013, the U.S. economy experienced a reasonable level of growth. The 3.4 percent growth rate in the second half of 2013 represented a solid growth rate, but not enough to trickle down to those who live at the periphery of the economy. Those with low or stagnant wages might find that their lives have not improved by 3.4 percent. Indeed, the gains from gross domestic product growth may mostly be captured by the wealthy.

The first quarter of 2014 was an amazing disappointment. Instead of the modest growth of 3.4 percent from the second half of 2013, the economy grew by just one tenth of one percent. This is the one of the slowest growth rate in the five years of so-called economic recovery. Based on these data, the economy grew more than 300 times slower than it did in the last half of 2013. Some say we are growing at a snail’s pace, but even the most sluggish snail can do better than this.

Can we blame this stagnant economy on the harsh winter we have experienced? Between snow, hail, sleet and rain, housing starts have slowed. People who might hit the malls are staying home. People aren’t buying cars at expected rates. Since consumer spending drives about three-quarters of our nation’s economic growth, postponed spending dampens growth. But consumer spending has not slowed as much as GDP has. Spending on health care (thanks to Obamacare) and on other services suggests that consumers have had mixed engagement as spenders.

On the other hand, businesses aren’t spending as much as they might, and along with holding off on spending makes it difficult for them to add employees to their payrolls. It also impacts GDP. What are these businesses waiting for to persuade them to invest in the economies that went into debt for their survival? Banks aren’t lending as much as they might, and even consumer credit is tighter than it should be. Consumers are spending despite, not because of, sluggish economic growth.

Growth might be stronger if the job market were more robust. As we saw from Friday’s unemployment figures, unemployment isn’t dropping significantly. Wages are stagnant. Every measure that President Obama has introduced for job creation our Congress has rebuffed, including unemployment assistance. While economic growth is, at best, sluggish, there are many who have not experienced any recovery at all.

While macroeconomic indicators deal with overall issues of economic growth, few indicators are disaggregated by race or income status. The Obama initiatives to raise wages, lower unemployment and create jobs are important because they are modest ways to spread the wealth and to ensure that economic growth is more evenly distributed. After all, we know that those at the top garneared the most gains from money thrown at them because they were “too big to fail.” Are those at the periphery just too small to survive?

We can’t have sustained economic growth when those who depend on banks to provide funds for economic expansion are shut down. We won’t have sustained economic growth if (0fficiallly) one in 15 people, and one in eight African Americans cannot find work. Economic recovery is meaningless to someone who lost a home during the great recession, and is clawing back to survival. While those with mortgage challenges were promised relief, few of them are have received it.

Some expect the economy to come roaring back in the second quarter, but I don’t expect the growth rate will be much higher than 3 percent. Further, the growth rate does nothing to close the wage and income gap that clearly slows economic growth. Who gains and who loses based on the growth rate? This is as an important an issue as is the issue of sluggish economic growth.

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

Supreme Court Continues to Limit Affirmative Action

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The Roberts Supreme Court decided last week that voters in the state of Michigan had the right to ban affirmative action policies in college admissions. Michigan is one of many where mediocre White students challenge the fact that African American students, far more qualified than they, have been admitted to college. This has happened in Texas and California, among other states.

These challenges to affirmative action have roots in the 1976 Bakke case, where the 38-year-old Alan Bakke sued because his application to medical school was rejected and he felt that he was displaced in favor of a minority student. The Supreme Court ordered Bakke admitted to the University of California at Davis, and also ruled that affirmative action was permissible under law.

What bothers me most about these anti affirmative action cases is the implicit White skin privilege that compels them. College admissions are an art, not a science. Students whose parents contribute generously to a college get an edge. In the name of diversity, a student from California, regardless of race, may get a bit of an edge at Dartmouth or Columbia. A violist, newspaper editor, or budding sports star, might also get a break. Meanwhile obdurate and privileged Whites don’t go after these people. Their ire is directed toward African Americans and other people of color.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor got it completely right when she said that race still matters. When the Supreme Court upholds these anti affirmative laws they deny history. Make it plain. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, a scant 60 years ago. Affirmative action policies were developed shortly after that so that the formerly closed doors of academia could be opened. Affirmative action had a short shelf life before it was challenged in 1978, just 14 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The opponents of affirmative action say that the color blindness that the Civil Rights Act mandated prevents remediation from past discrimination. What about contemporary discrimination?

The University of Michigan, in its admissions policies, has evaluated students by a points system. Students get extra points if they have participated in Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. How many high schools in troubled Detroit, have access to these classes. Yet the people of Detroit pay taxes to support a college that discriminates against them/ When the anti-affirmative action crowd talks about fairness do they take this into consideration?

When University of Michigan admits do not reflect the demographics of Detroit, aren’t the Whites who attempt to dominate the welfare recipients of the state? The attempt for fairness is misplaced when anti-affirmative action proponents want people of color to pay for a university system that gives White people preferential treatment.

In a few weeks we will commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. While it took some time for Brown to be implemented, it was a Supreme Court decision that opened doors to equal education for those who have been discriminated against. With the most recent affirmative action case, the Supreme Court has chosen to slam doors in the face of those who have experienced historical discrimination.

This Supreme Court, collectively, has behaved no better than Southern night riders who would stop at nothing too exclude African Americans from participation in education, voting, or owning property. This court is no better than the administrators at the University of Georgia who denied Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Harris admission, despite their qualifications. This court has legalized educational segregation, and Sonia Soyomayor’s blistering attack on her colleagues reflects the sentiments of millions of people who are tired of this court trampling on their rights and history.

Justice John Roberts is 59 years old. He attended college when long excluded people of color were admitted because of race-conscious policies. What are his resentments toward his classmates who, equally qualified, may have “displaced” some of his friends? Does everyone who has been “displaced” have grounds for a lawsuit? What impact will Roberts have on race matters in the future? While Justice Sotomayor is on the court to check him, and while her opinions will have some weight, she and her colleagues will not be able to outvote the myopic conservative majority.

Roberts led the cabal that slammed the door in the faces of people of color. His justice is a “just us” attempt to reinforce White privilege.

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

Women Get Unequal Pay for Equal Work

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(NNPA) When John and Ann started working on January 1, 2013, John had an immediate advantage. Because women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, it took Ann until last Friday [April 11, 2014] to earn the same amount of money that John earned in the calendar year of 2013.

The issue of unequal pay is so important that President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago. While we have come a long way, baby, the pay gap has remained stubborn. This is why President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act as soon as he assumed office.

This year, to commemorate National Equal Pay Day (that’s the day Ann finally earns as much as John), the president signed an Executive Order protecting workers from retaliation when they speak of unequal pay in the workplace (one of the ways employers can maintain unequal pay is to make discussing pay grounds for firing). The president, through the Secretary of Labor, is also requiring federal contractors to provide data on pay, race, and gender to ensure that employers are fairly paid. Furthermore, the Senate is considering the Paycheck Fairness Act, which may pass the Senate, but not the House of Representatives.

We know all about John and Ann, but what about Tamika? If women earn 77 percent of what men earn, what about African American women? Women surely have come a long way, but some are moving far more slowly than others. How many African American women are there in the Senate? Among Fortune 500 leaders? In other positions of power? What about pay? African American women earn about three quarters of what other women earn, meaning that if it takes Ann until April 11 to catch up with John, It will take Tamika until about June 1 – about another six weeks – to catch up. Tamika earns in 18 months what John earns in 12 months.

Even African American women with the highest levels of education experience these differences. White men with a postgraduate degree earn a median salary of $1,666 a week African American women earn a median salary of $1,000 during the same time period. For all the talk of pay equity and paycheck fairness, the status of African American women is largely ignored.

It wouldn’t take much for the president, or some of those feminist groups who support paycheck fairness to throw in a line or two about African American women. Nor would it hurt African American organizations, especially those who serve Black women, to point out this injustice. Are African American women invisible? Don’t we count? African American women raise the majority of our children, and shoulder many of the challenges in the African American community. Ignoring us in a conversation about unequal pay simply marginalizes our experiences and us.

The focus on “overall” data is yet another way of marginalizing not only African American women, but other people of color well. Reporting aggregate data gives some notion of economic progress. Reporting specific data about African American women and men makes it clear, for example, that African Americans experience depression-level unemployment rates.

I was delighted when President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, and I have been privileged to hear Ledbetter speak on more than one occasion. She is an amazing woman with a talent for “breaking it down.” When she learned that men doing the same job she did earned more money, she cried “foul” but the law said it was “too late” for her to complain. In her inimitable way, she said that grocers did not charge her less money because she was female, nor did doctors, or anyone else. She said that higher-paid men didn’t have to make uncomfortable choices about which child would get new shoes or clothes.

African American women can tell the same story as Lily Ledbetter. Indeed, the gaps African American women are likely to be more severe than the ones Lily Ledbetter faced. The pay gap for African Americans is larger and too many live in food deserts where the cost of food is higher even as the quality is lower.

Lily Ledbetter deserves the limelight she earned because she brought this matter to the president’s attention. There’s a Black woman out there who can tell a similar or more compelling story. She, too, needs to be lifted up. We ought to know her name, see her name on a piece of legislation. Ledbetter is an ordinary shero, a working class woman who stood up for her rights. She reminds us that, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “You don’t have to be great to serve.” We need a sister to remind us that we don’t have to be elected, appointed, or anointed to make a difference.

When African American women are marginalized, so are our girls. They are left with the mistaken impression that we have not fought for our rights. We’ve been fighting and fighting, but somehow the story of a sister struggling is too unremarkable to be noted by the media.

Race and gender continue to shape the opportunities that African American women have, and race and gender continue to marginalize us Black women. When do African American women have equal visibility in the policy and imagery arena? When we demand it and when we stop applauding our own marginalization.

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

The Audacity of Voting

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(NNPA) I love voting. Every time I go into the booth, I see little girl me, pigtails and all, plaid skirt, white blouse and green sweater, part of my Catholic school uniform. Most of my relatives were Democrats, though my grandmother voted Republican a time or two because “Lincoln freed the slaves.” In 1960, I had the privilege of pulling the lever to elect John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the candidate that the nuns at Immaculate Conception Elementary School rhapsodized over.

On the way back from the polls, my mom told me that Negroes (as we were called then) didn’t always get to vote, and she shared facts about grandfather clauses and poll taxes. I’ll never forget that moment, which may have sown the seeds of my activism. Indeed, when I went to school the next day, and the nun asked if everyone’s parent had voted, I took the opportunity to share that Negroes did not always get to vote. I was sent home with a note at the end of the day, and got an admonition from my mom about keeping my big mouth shut. I guess I didn’t learn my lesson.

I guess everyone doesn’t like voting as much as I do. Only a quarter of those eligible to vote in the District of Columbia did so. Some blamed the earliness of the primary (only Illinois had an earlier date, on March 26, and some states have primary elections as late as September); others spoke of the inclement weather the weekend before the election as affecting voter turnout. But when I am reminded that Fannie Lou Hamer was almost beat to death because she registered voters, and Medgar Evers was killed because he worked to secure voting rights for Black people, I am infuriated by those who take a pass on voting. How does a little snow on Sunday keep you from going to the polls on Tuesday? The fact is that too many African Americans play into enemy hands whenever they fail to vote.

Now the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law (www…lawyerscommitt.org) has produced a “Map of Shame” that highlights more than a dozen states that engage in voter suppression, either by requiring picture ID, consolidating polling places so that people have to travel further to vote, or passing other restrictions on voting.

Unsurprisingly, most of these states are in the South, but Northern states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania have also made it more difficult for voters. North Carolina is so bad that Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, has been leading hundreds outside the state capitol weekly for “Moral Mondays” design to draw attention to the immorality of voter suppression. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court has now made it easier to purchase votes on First Amendment grounds, with the amount that the wealthy can give increasing exponentially. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that the limit on contributions is unconstitutional. McCutcheon is not shy about explaining why he wants to spend more money. He wants to ensure that the law embraces conservative principles.

It is interesting that the McCutcheon decision comes in time to influence this election cycle. With this decision, the Supreme Court has made it easier to purchase an election. With limits on PAC money lifted, the court has created a well-funded monster. There is more than one way to suppress the vote, and this court is determined to silence citizens any way they can. They have nullified a key section of the Voting Rights Act. They’ve made it possible to pour money into campaigns. In many ways they have attempted to shut people up, or at least skew the playing field in favor of the wealthy.

Rev. Jesse Jackson says that the hands that picked peaches can also pick presidents. We can’t pick anything if we don’t get to the polls. Voter suppression and well-funded opponents are obstacles to voting. Still, we impose some of the obstacles on ourselves.

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

An Attention Span Beyond Flight 370

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(NNPA) If you missed the news about the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean, you must have been buried in sand. For three weeks, we have been bombarded with theories – was it terrorism? Pilot error? Something else? Now the story has evolved. Were pieces of the plane found? Is everyone dead? How do the families of the presumed dead feel? (This is a really stupid question. How does the clueless reporter asking such a question think the people feel?)

CNN may well have been called MPN – the Missing Plane Network. An evening of watching covered the same angle with a different host and guests. Some of the focus was certainly understandable, but other networks managed to find news of things going on that did not involve Flight 370. Still, the prevalent and relentless emphasis on the missing plane was excessive.

Couldn’t some of the airtime granted Flight 370 have been used for equally critical matter? There were 239 people on that plane, and there were more than 300 killed in 2013. I’m not suggesting an equivalency in the two types of tragedies, but I am suggesting that the media might focus more on gun violence, its sources and possible solutions to end senseless violence. Of course, that might anger the National Rifle Association whose specious slogan – guns don’t kill, people do – ignores the harm done by the proliferation of guns in our nation.

President Obama has challenged our nation’s educators to increase the percentage of young people attending and graduating from college, so that we might better compete with other industrialized countries. People applaud at these sentiments, but these educational goals get little media attention. Yet, such coverage would raise an important issue and, perhaps, push us toward solutions.

I do not begrudge the extensive coverage of Flight 370. The disappearance of a plane is both a mystery and a tragedy. But the excessive coverage of Flight 370 reminds us of the power of the media. If something is repeated enough, and repeatedly enough, it wiggles its way into our consciousness. Thus, the pilots have been tried and convicted by media speculation, without anyone actually knowing what happened.

What if such repetition were used to highlight some of our nation’s most serious social and economic challenges. What if we could get a couple of networks, just for a week, focus on reading proficiency, or the environment, or poverty and inequality? Perhaps we can’t focus on these issues because we can’t agree on their causes, not when the likes of Rand Paul are running around excoriating the poor and the unemployed every chance he gets. Or with, despite this long and frigid winter, the global warming deniers won’t give any ground.

The media is used to rivet attention toward an issue or challenge. Unfortunately, it has rarely been used for good, although it could be. What if viewers demanded that there is some focus on essential issues? What if there were a media campaign to encourage children to read more, and encourage parents and teachers to encourage this reading. Such a campaign might include paid advertising, but much of it might be driven by news stories.

May I have your attention please? Might I have your attention about poverty and unemployment? May I have your attention about the status of our young people? What about the literacy issue? The paucity of open space in some cities?

May I have your attention about the importance of getting out the vote? I want your attention about the effectiveness of standardized tests. I need your attention on the automobile manufacturers who sell defective cars and take a whole three years to recall them.

In the wake of the Flight 370 tragedy we will learn, undoubtedly, about those who lost their lives because of the tragedy. Only rarely, however, will we learn about the most recent victim of gun violence. May I have your attention? Please.

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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