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Julianne Malveaux

Should We Bank on the Recovery?

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(NNPA) Good news – the unemployment rate is dropping, last month from 9 percent to 8.9 percent a scant drop. Better news – the private sector is finally generating jobs, 192,000 to be exact, last month. Best news – there is optimism about economic recovery and spin doctors are saying that we are finally moving forward.

Bad news – part of the unemployment rate drop has to do with people who have dropped out of the labor market. They can’t afford to look for work anymore, so they are just looking for light. If those who dropped out stayed in, we’d be looking at much higher unemployment rates. Worst news – several states are trying to cut public sector employees using the fiction that these folks are too well paid and have too many benefits for the states to afford them. We have runaway legislatures in Wisconsin and Indiana, where Democrats refuse to be badgered by those Republicans who have sent reason running and are determined to pulverize unions. Even worst news, is the intransigence of Washington Tea Party Republicans that want to cut budgets so drastically that they will minimize the future possibilities of our nation.

The unspoken news is the ways that foreclosures have completely eviscerated the economic underpinnings of middle income communities, and the African American middle class in particular. I participated in a Washington Post panel on race and the recession recently, and when moderator Michelle Singletary asked who knew someone who had experienced foreclosure, almost the entire audience stood. People don’t want to talk about what they perceive as their personal economic failures, but when a personal problem is magnified 1000 times, according to Gloria Steinem, it becomes a political or structural problem. These foreclosures are about wealth transfer, not about personal failure. It erodes middle-class confidence, makes it difficult for people to spend. And, if we don’t spend, the economy doesn’t recover.

The Obama Administration cannot afford to take scantly positive economic numbers and rest their hat on them. Targeted job creation programs are in order right now. These programs may be politically unpalatable, what with the Tea Party folks trying to cut programs that are economically restoring to those who were losers in the Great Recession. The African American community has been hard hit, but hardly heard, perhaps with respect to our first African American president. Still, you won’t get fed in your mama’s house if you don’t bring your plate to the table. Who is bringing our plate? Where is the pointed and real request for relief to the African American community? Every other community with needs has asked that their needs be addressed. What about the African American community?

I am weary and wary of numbers that say that there is economic recovery when I live in a world where recovery has not yet happened. Indeed, the 192,000 jobs generated in this last month are good, but not great results. We need to generate at least 400,000 jobs a month, according to the Economic Policy Institute, to catch up and repair the damage of the Great Recession. We should do better than 192,000 in coming months, and President Obama’s policies may even be able to get us to an 8.5 percent unemployment rate by September 2011, or even sooner. Still, we have to address the long-term unemployed, the labor market dropouts, and those African Americans who are still at the periphery of the economy. Macroeconomic policy won’t trickle down to these groups unless there is a targeted effort to include them, and Obama’s Tea Party defensive, racial stance, isn’t going to drill deep into the places where economic pain has hit hardest.

Are we banking on this economic recovery, then? I am cautiously optimistic that there is recovery in the air. And, I am absolutely horrified that there has been no targeting to the least and the left out. Two years after our nation’s economic meltdown, Wall Street is recovering, even thriving. Those who were at the periphery in 2008 find themselves even further distanced in recovery. Who is banking on recovery? Who is making money? Dare I say that banks are doing better than the rest of us?

Julianne Malveaux, economist and author, is President of Bennett College for Women. Her most recent book, Suriving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Balck Economic History, is available from www.lastwordprod.com

Is There Really A Deficit Crisis?

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(NNPA) In the wake of the State of the Union Address there is likely to be much partisan conversation about the direction of our nation. President Obama will address the economy and jobs, and Republicans will talk about the health of the economy, and about cutting budgets in their rebuttal. Citing growing deficits, both parties are concerned that spending is out of control. Yet some spending is absolutely needed to create jobs, just as $700 billion of spending was needed to bail out banks. It intrigueIs me that the same folk who eagerly bailed banks out have now suddenly discovered the concept of budget cuts and are pushing them, even as they have added to the deficit by insisting on extending Bush tax cuts.

President Obama has furthered the notion that there is a budget crisis by appointing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to make suggestions to manage the federal budget deficit. The Bowles/Simpson commission would trim about $4 trillion from the federal budget in the next decade by increasing the Social Security retirement age, freezing federal pay, leveling Pentagon spending, and making other cost-cutting suggestions. There were 18 people on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and 14 had to approve the suggestions for them to be accepted, but only 11 went along with some of the draconian plans that were announced, so the suggestions are only suggestions.

It is important to raise questions about the nature of the deficit crisis. Is this a cyclical crisis, connected to the economic downturn? Is it more structural, something that would have occurred without the downturn? How should it be managed, and will there be equal pain around curtailing the deficit, or will only one or two sectors pay for the challenges the deficit creates.

For example, there has been talk of raising the social security retirement age for years, and always we have looked at an across the board age increase, whether workers are high income or low, whether they have pensions or not, whether their work is physical or not. It’s entirely different to ask a professor to work until 70 than it is to ask a waitress to do so, but these plans increase the social security retirement age do not seem to take these things into consideration, thus continuing a class based economic inequality that also creates racial inequality. Is this our goal? To widen gaps instead of narrowing them? Increasing the social security retirement age indiscriminately will do this.

Similarly, the attack on federal employees is an attack that has a differential impact by race and gender. Women and people of color are both more likely to be employed by the federal government, but also more likely to get more equal pay in the public sector than in the private sector. United for a Fair Economy released their annual State of the Dream report last week. Entitled, Austerity for Whom, the report explores the ways that so-called budget cutting measures actually hit women and people of color more severely.

White women earn 82 cents for every dollar White men earn in the public sector, compared to 71 cents in the private sector. Black men earn 80 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but a scant 57 cents for every dollar in the private sector. Black women earn 73 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but 56 cents in the private sector. Latino men earn 86 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but just 48 cents to the dollar, while Latina women earn 71 cents to the dollar in the public sector, but just 46 to the White male dollar in the private sector.

The solution may not be to maintain a large public workforce, but any solution will include an awareness of these differences and, perhaps, a strong Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Who wants to bet that the EEOC will be another of the budget cutting casualties? In an anti-regulatory climate, the combination of federal employment cuts, and an indifference to enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is designed to increase the racial unemployment gap.

It makes sense that the deficit should rise during an employment crisis. While we should be careful with our resources, we should certainly not cut budget and federally funded opportunities significantly in a recession. The so-called deficit crisis could be a more complex crisis, if we don’t put people back to work, no matter what it costs.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC. Her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History can be ordered at www.lastwordprod.com.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Preacher and Prophet

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(NNPA) The swirl around commemorating and celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday always fascinates me. The mainstream media quickly goes to his most famous quote, “I have a dream that one day people will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” It’s a powerful quote, but equally powerful, and delivered in the same speech, are the words, “We have come to the nation’s capital to cash a check. . . .a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” If people said, “cash the check” as frequently as they say “I have a dream”, we might have a different mindset about the economic status of African American people.

I have claimed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an economist because of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits.” Because economists deal with issues of distribution, I have claimed that this is a baseline economic statement that places Dr. King in the economists’ Hall of Fame. Yet, if one reads his speech, the Drum Major Instinct, delivered on February 4, 1968, just 2 months before his death, one would claim him as both a psychologist and prophet as well.

In the Drum Major speech, Dr. King deconstructs human nature, our need to be in front, to keep up with the Joneses’, to claim the best to the detriment of the rest. He scolds sororities and fraternities, even as he acknowledges himself as a fraternity man. He scolds over spenders for the folly they engage in when they use their money to chase material goods for status, instead of chasing meaning. He says the race problem may come out of the drum major instinct, the need for some to feel superior, thereby making others feel inferior. And he says if he will be a drum major for anything, if he will be superior in anything, he will be a drum major for justice.

Hidden inside the drum major speech are a couple of prophetic paragraphs. He says, “There are nations caught up in the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme”. “Our nation must rule the world”. And I am sad to say this nation in which we live is the supreme culprit.” He goes on to say, “God didn’t call America to do what she is doing in the world now. . . We’ve committed more war crimes than almost any nation n the world.. . .And we won’t stop it because of our pride and arrogance as a nation.” He spoke these words in 1968. Do they resonate now?

Prophecy. “God has a way of even putting nations in their place.. . .If you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power. And that can happen to America. Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.”

Dr. King said this in 1968, long before China started kicking the United States in the behind economically. He said this in 1968, long before we fell back in world educational achievement. Once we led the world in the proportion of our population that had either AA or BA degrees. Now we rank 10th, an amazing decline for a nation that claims to lead the world. President Obama would like us to regain our preeminence, and we have the resources, but not the will, to do so. To quote Dr. King, “God has a way of putting nations in their place.”

Yes, we all want to be part of something, that which is popular. That’s the drum major instinct. But, what are we drum majors for? Oppression? False superiority? Or are we, like Dr. King, drum majors for justice?

Given what happened in 1968, Dr. King was spot on in predicting our nation’s denouement. We are in a downward spiral and our direction won’t change until we embrace the concepts of social and economic justice that Dr. King so effectively preached.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, can be obtained from www.lastwordprod.com. The book was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

A Tragedy and My Apology

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(NNPA) My cellphone pinged on Saturday to say I had a message. I was in the middle of lunch and chose to ignore it. When I picked it up a couple of hours later, I felt the same sickness that millions did, learning that Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was shot in an assassination attempt. Television news bubbled over with the news, with fact, spin, and interpretation. Would all 435 members of Congress need ramped up security? Was hate speech the basis of this shooting? I even saw Neil Boortz, the peripatetic Atlanta lawyer and talk show host suggest that President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama had been guilty of some of the same hate speech that the right has been accused of. Please.

The talk about hate speech, however, is important and I’m going to own my part of it, and apologize. A bazillion years ago (actually in 1992) I made a wisecrack about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Anyone who knows me would see it as a wisecrack, but those who don’t saw it as hate speech. Here’s the background. Thomas said he would live to be 120 to stay on the court to frustrate liberals. I replied that the average Black man had a life expectancy of about 65, and that if his wife fed him lots of butter and eggs (if her recent call to Anita Hill is any indication she isn’t cooking much these days), ingredients for high cholesterol and heart trouble, he’d die an early death. Conservatives called it a death wish. Death by breakfast, I responded, still in jest. As if someone were standing over Thomas with an Uzi forcing him to eat that butter and eggs. The wisecrack has to be taken even less seriously if Justice Thomas’ purported commitment to physical fitness and working out is taken into consideration.

No matter, and no excuses. My comment about Thomas, my wisecrack, was in poor taste. Out of line. Out of order. I am sorry if the words I spoke at all contributed to the climate in which we live, to the vitriol that has poisoned the atmosphere. My apology does not mitigate or reduce my contempt for Clarence Thomas and for his arrogant dismissal of liberals and for the African American community. If I could do it all over, I’d have wished him the bacon and eggs, or simply made reference to the Black male life expectancy rate and his own hubris, but left out the comment about his early death. The fact is that none of us should joke about death. It just isn’t funny.

To be sure, the right has had a great time distorting my words, and they’ve disseminated them widely. And, anytime a liberal makes an inappropriate comment they take their media machine and work it overtime. These conservatives invoke free speech when pastors pray for President Obama’s death from their pulpits (if it were any other president, that pastor might have been looking the FBI in the face). These same conservatives say they aren’t racist when they use images of apes to describe the First Family. These conservatives have both fingerprints and footprints in the poisoned language that poses as free speech. Yet it is true that it takes sticks and twigs, not just logs and trees, to build a fire. Was my comment one of the twigs?

It has taken me nearly two decades and an attempted assassination to understand the damage that my wisecrack might have caused, not to Justice Thomas, but to the public discourse. I hope it won’t take our nation two more decades to understand and embrace the notion of speech civility, even for, no, especially for, political opponents. Every day, and in every way, I tell my students, faculty, and staff that I value civility. Yet, my comment about Clarence Thomas was not only uncivil, it was ugly and unnecessary. And, it really wasn’t that funny. I regret it. I apologize for it. I wish I could take it back.

A dynamic young Congresswoman is fighting for her life, and I am among those who will fall to my knees in prayer for her each day. The assassin who shot her also took out a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, a Congressional aide, and others. A dozen more were wounded. Scores of lives will never be the same. Even as we pray for Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, we need to fight to restrict easy access to guns. And, we all need to be reminded to tone it down.

Julianne Malveaux is the 15th President of Bennett College for Women. Her most recent book, Surviving and Thriving, 365 Facts in Black Economic History, can be purchased at www.lastwordprod.com.

Surviving, Thriving, and Holiday Kwanzaa

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(NNPA) When I look at the data that define the reality for African Americans in the economy, I am often alarmed and discouraged. One in four African American lives in poverty. Nearly one in three is out of work, according to unofficial data (official data says one in six). African Americans have lost billions of dollars worth of wealth in the foreclosure crisis. We aren’t alone in our pain – our nation is hurting. But, our pain is more pronounced, more acute, more debilitating.

This is hardly the first time African Americans have experienced disproportionate pain. Indeed, the story of our presence in this nation has been a story of us shouldering more than our share of economic pain. When people ask me about the wealth gap, I remind them that Black folks used to be the wealth White folks accumulated. Under those circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that the wealth gap will ever be closed.

And yet we rise. I wrote my latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, to remind me, to remind all of us, that even in harsh times African Americans have been more than survivors, we have been thrivers. We have made it despite horrible conditions, despite unfairness, despite racism. The playing field has never been level, and yet we have played on the slanted field, returning, returning, and sometimes winning. In the middle of a week of running around, talking about the book in Detroit and in Chicago, I had to smile at myself with air of satisfaction and acknowledge a job well done.

Madame C.J. Walker is on the book’s cover, and everyone knows about this first self-made woman millionaire in the United States, but few know of Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who started the Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia. Californians are often familiar with Mary Ellen Pleasant (known as “Mammy Pleasant”) who was a millionaire who gained stock tips by working in White people’s kitchens. William Liedesdorff was the first treasurer of San Francisco. He was a man of African descent.

The most powerful acts of economic history, acts at our foundation, were those African Americans who bought their own freedom. I can’t ever even begin to utter those words, or write them, without feeling a bit of nausea at the contradiction implicit in buying one’s own freedom, and yet it happened. We bought ourselves, so committed to freedom that we were willing to cut a deal with massa, with those who believed us somehow less than human. We cut deals despite the fact that the Dred Scott decision said that blacks had no rights whites were bound to respect. We were smart enough to cut deals, and we could have run away, but we stayed and paid unscrupulous masters for a freedom that our very humanity had already earned for us. We bought ourselves. Purchased ourselves. And in the case of some, like Free Frank McWhorter, purchased our relatives, too. In the case of John Parker, of Cincinnati, not only freed ourselves but also walked up on plantations and, despite a price on our head, freed others. History books don’t talk about self-emancipation, but they should. I wrote my book because everyone needs to know about self-emancipation, about the will and the tenacity of people of African descent.

This book is not just a book about entrepreneurs, but about others that influenced economic history, those who protested segregation, those “firsts” like Federal Reserve Governor Andrew Brimmer, who influenced public policy, the women who were “firsts” in earning academic degrees in economics, Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, and Dr. Phyllis Ann Wallace, with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Yale, respectively. This is also the story of the results of economic envy, shameful facts in our economic history, but essential ones nonetheless. The destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the destruction of a vital Black community in Rosewood, Florida, and the demolition of Black life in Wilmington, North Carolina have had an impact on contemporary Black life.

And so we need Kwanzaa now more than ever. We need the principle of Ujamaa – cooperative economics. The statistics tell a grim story about our status, but our history is a compelling reminder that in good times and in bad, African Americans have survived and thrived.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History is available at www.lastwordprod.com.

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