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Julianne Malveaux

Young, Gifted and Poor

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(NNPA) The 2009 poverty numbers were released last week, and things are a lot worse than many economists thought they would be. The poverty rate jumped up a full percentage point, from 13.2 to 14.3 percent. This means that one in seven Americans live in poverty, 4 million more than a year ago. This is the third year the level of poverty and the number of poor Americans has risen.

The poverty rate among African Americans rose, too, from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent. The rate for Hispanics rose from 23.2 percent to 25.1 percent. African Americans have the highest poverty rate of any racial ethnic group. In contrast, the rate for non-Hispanic whites is 9.4 percent, less than half the rate for African Americans.

These data are bad enough, but New York University economist Max Wolff says the data behind the data are even worse. The younger you are in American, says Dr. Wolff, the more likely you are to live in poverty. So while one in 7 Americans is poor, being young raises the poverty rate to 1 in 4. While one in 4 African Americans is poor, being young raises the African American poverty rate to one in 2.5. Some think that young people will lessen their chances of being in poverty as they age, but early poverty experiences are likely to influence future opportunity.

When young people lived with non-relatives, two-thirds of them lived in poverty. This is ominous data for the hundreds of thousands of foster children in our country. In disaggregating the data that were released last Thursday, Dr. Wolff show the extreme vulnerability that urban youth experienced, especially those that drop out of high school. Again, these young people are disproportionately African American.

The health insurance data are no more promising: 50.7 million Americans, 16. 7 percent of the population, do not have health insurance coverage. This data make it clear why it was so very important for President Obama to push hard for national health care. More than 15 percent of whites lack health insurance coverage, compared to 21 percent of African Americans and 32 percent of Hispanics. The percentage of those without health coverage is undoubtedly tied to the percentage of those who are jobless or who have cobbled together part time jobs without benefits.

Another aspect of this poverty data is the rising number of people who are simply hungry in our nation, people, especially children who do not have enough to eat. This week, policy makers will throng to New York to speak of world poverty, which is an important and challenging issue. At the same time, some attention must be paid to the poverty and hunger that exist right here in the United States. President Obama has pledged to end hunger in our country by 2015, but child nutrition legislation (HR 5504), which needs reauthorization, languishes in Congress. At the same time as more people need food stamps, food stamp benefits were cut so that budgets could be balanced.

While my work focuses on the economic status of African Americans and I have been particularly concerned about the growth of poverty in African American communities, the fact is that poverty has a most diverse face in this nation. Eighteen million of our nation’s poor are non-Hispanic whites; nearly 10 million are African American, more than 12 million are Hispanic and 1.7 million are Asian. There is a Rainbow Coalition of poor people in this country, enough to spark a Poor People’s Campaign like the one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned in 1968. What would happen if the nation’s poor united to talk about the economic restructuring that is badly needed in this country?

The new poverty doesn’t only exist in inner cities. Some of the new poor are in suburbs, wide-eyed and frightened to be in an economic predicament they never would have expected to find themselves in. Poverty is at a disturbing high in our nation – it is higher than it was in 1960. Its reach is wide, and not a single population has been exempted.

Still, I am especially sympathetic to those who are young, gifted, and poor. What will their lives look like in the future, if they are shackled with poverty now?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Black Economic History Facts.

Nightmare, Dream or in Between

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(NNPA) - I was in a meeting last Saturday when a man referenced “two marches” and I nearly melted down. I was appalled that anyone could manage to refer to equivalence between those who came to uphold Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream 47 years later, and those who came to repudiate it. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and their colleagues need to be ashamed at their feeble attempt to “restore honor”. Restore. Reclaim. Give me a break.

The fact is that Glen Beck threw down when he described President Obama as a racist. Once he uttered that despicable sentiment, he had no business in the “coincidence” of having a rally on August 28. For the record, Glenn Beck, here are some other dates you can’t claim . . .January 15, Dr. King’s birthday; April 4, the date of Dr. King’s death. Beck’s amazing coincidences are repugnant, but somehow the national media gives him a pass, celebrating his turnout without excoriating him for his hubris.

After Beck and company left the Lincoln Memorial on the capital, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others arrived. Their crowd was smaller, but more passionate and more focused. I hope that we will all throng to the capital on August 28, 2013, fifty years after Dr. King brought us all together. And I hope that by then we will have emerged from this nightmare of a civil rights moment and back into a dream.

Nightmare. Glenn Beck has made his mark by calling our president a racist. This weekend he has backed up and said he wishes that he didn’t say it. But he did. Because it is okay for folks to take this President on in the most obnoxious ways, to hold him to standards that many cannot manage. Nightmare. Because Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their ilk want to take our nation backward in the guise of moving forward.

Dream. Rev. Al Sharpton was true to his heritage, gathering folks to celebrate the 47 years since Dr. King had a dream. Kudos to him, and kudos also to Rev. Jesse Jackson, who managed to gather thousands in Detroit, including Congressional representatives John Conyers and Maxine Waters. “You should have been there,” Bill Cosby told me, referencing the Thursday back to school rally that was part of Rev. Jackson’s weeklong tour of “ground zero” Michigan. (Dr. Cosby joined us at Bennett College for Women on Tuesday, challenging students to do their best this academic year).

Are we in a nightmare, dream, or in between? The economic data remain scary, and the racial climate is challenging. Would people be better behaved if health care reform had happened under a president who was not of African descent? Would our nation prefer a blonde First Lady modeling excellence, behaving as First Mom? What has race got to do with it? Is it the nightmare, dream or in between?

When Labor Day arrives next week, we will all review the data on work and wring our hands because so many Americans are out of work. Some politicians will say we can’t do anything about this because we are already in too much debt. Others will say we can help the unemployment situation by creating jobs even though they cost. Some are living a nightmare, others are hoping for a dream. What is the in between?

It is disturbing to consider the many ways our perspectives on employment, life, and civil rights diverge. I was repulsed by a man who saw “two marches” because I assumed that he invoked a moral equivalence. He may have been annoyed by my strong reaction to remarks he offered as innocent. Still, there is something immutable about the sentiments Dr. Martin Luther King offered on August 28, 1963. The attempt to parse these sentiments is disturbing. Let’s not allow Dr. King’s dream to turn into a nightmare. Here is the real deal. A man who viciously described President Obama as a racist, and who has dined on his viciousness for more than a year, has absolutely no right to claim any dream. His very popularity is a nightmare for those of us who have the audacity to believe, as Dr. King did, “that people everywhere have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, peace and freedom for their spirits.”

Nightmare, dream, or in between? The choice is only ours.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is also an economist and author.

Detroit – America's Ground Zero

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(NNPA) - Only one in four young Black men graduates from high school in Detroit. The rest are lost and left out, swallowed by a city where urban blight, industrial desertion, and educational failure define daily life. Detroit is ground zero, exemplifying the absolute worst of urban life. It had a passionate champion in Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who recently lost her bid for reelection. But as passionate as Cheeks Kilpatrick and Senator Debbie Stabenow have been about Detroit, this is a city that won’t bounce back without revolutionary intervention.

Government has intervened for Detroit, bailing out General Motors (now Government Motors) to the tune of billions of dollars. The bailout has yet to trickle down. Instead, we have seen schools closed, hours curtailed, and a man who is more bureaucrat than educator placed in charge of that city’s educational system. Across the nation, millions of students are going back to school. What are they going back to in cities like Detroit? With budget cuts defining everything that is done, are they going back to fewer hours, broke down schools, and chaos? In going back, are they being embraced or repelled by those city administrators who place a higher priority on balancing budgets than educating young people.

The Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation has released a report that speaks to the ways that so many states are failing black male students. Michigan’s black male graduation rate, at 47 percent, is at the US average, and higher than the rate in Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Hawaii, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, DC, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida and New York. New York’s rate is an abysmal and frightening 25 percent. Aaaugh. Inner cities in several states do extremely poorly, like Detroit. The Schott Foundation report ought to raise alarm among educators and policy makers and raise questions about the work we must do to properly focus on African American students, male and female.

This week, Rev. Jesse Jackson has taken his team on the road to the state of Michigan, with stops in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Detroit. The purpose is to lead up to a Saturday march for Jobs, Peace and Justice, 37 years after Dr. Martin Luther King’s pivotal March on Washington. It is so appropriate that Rev. Jackson is taking it to Detroit, with the help of allies in the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Indeed, to go to ground zero reminds us how important Detroit has been for working class African Americans, and how many ways those who were willing to work were once embraced in a manufacturing economy. Now, willing workers, in the millions, languish waiting for opportunities, while we have exported them in our global economy.

Those who are unemployed are unable to support themselves. How many underwater mortgages are there in Detroit? Who much abandoned housing? Which services have been curtailed because the city simply can’t afford to provide for seniors, children, library users, hungry people, all of that? The deindustrialization of Detroit has led to a colossal urban crisis, and government stimulus has simply bypassed that city. It is important and exciting to gather in Detroit on august 28, both in commemoration of Dr. King's 1963 march, and in recognition of the fact that politics and policy are both local and global.

What would happen if the Obama administration were as kind to Detroit as it has been to automakers? What would happen if someone decided to make Detroit a “model city” and to see how government programs could not only improve lives in a city described as “ground zero” but also model work in other cities? What would happen if there were a renaissance and rebirth in Detroit, one that presaged other urban renewals?

Once upon a time, urban renewal meant black folk removal. Now, the revival of cities will necessarily improve African American economic fortunes. When Rev. Jesse Jackson and thousands of others march in Detroit they spotlight one of our nation’s urban failures. The spotlight must be followed by a focused effort to turn this failure into success. If Detroit can rise up out of its ashes, increasing graduation rates, entrepreneurial engagement, industrial development, and social service efficiency, so can every other challenged American city.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In Search of Synchronicity

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(NNPA) - I haven’t seen the movie, Eat Pray Love. I just read the book. After I read it I put it on a friend’s desk and asked if she’d get more from it than I did. The book is a travelogue of Italy, India and Indonesia, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s romp through the three countries in such a way as to find herself after her marriage went bad.

To be sure, there were moments of mmm, and moments of aaaugh, and moments when I absolutely empathized with Elizabeth Gilbert. And there were moments when I reminded myself that 15 million American don’t have work, and that half of those haven’t had work for half a year. They aren’t running around the world finding themselves and having Julia Roberts play them in the reality show. They are simply searching for survival.

Synchronicity. Alignment. They ways that all of our stuff makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to write a book or watch a film about this search for self even as so many search for survival.

Last week, unemployment rates were again released and we learned that, at 9.5 percent, our country’s ability to employ has not improved. More importantly, the unemployment rate for African Americans exceeds 16 percent, and that, too, is something that somehow coexists with this fabulous movie romp through self-discovery. I’m not annoyed (too much) at Elizabeth Gilbert or Julia Roberts, though they ought to break off a little piece of their profits for those who can’t romp as wildly as they do. I am concerned that the timing of the release of their movie has a bit of smug self-satisfaction to it. Will I go see it? Possibly. Without seeing it, but with reading the book, the entire enterprise strikes me as discordant, absent synchronicity.

So if I am mad at Liz and Julia, what about Michelle Obama, our stunning First Lady who took herself to Spain a week or so ago. The pundits say that she was wrong and out of touch and tone deaf to our nation’s economic crisis. One of her best translators, Liz sweet from the Chicago Times says that the vacation was a way of allowing First Lady Obama to connect with friends who’d lost a parent. I say if I have to do discordance, I’ll accept the First Lady’s. Don’t get me wrong. If I were making up a white house schedule, I would have passed on the Spain trip. At the same time, who knows what happens in that house and how the First Mom decides to parse her time. I want to give her hugs, not criticism, for all the work she does, and for all the work she really could do but is not allowed to. The Spain trip is not an Eat Pray Love thing, not even slightly. And the tone and tenor of some of the objections to Mrs. Obama’s trip frankly reek of racial resentment.

Abbey Lincoln once wore a dress also worn by Marilyn Monroe. When she grew into herself she burned it. She died this week, a woman whose fierce voice searched for synchronicity, for authenticity, for that which is real. She died on August 14, a voice until her waning years, an inspiration even at the invocation of her name. Abbey Lincoln was described by some fool critic as a “professional Negro” as if there is something wrong with that. The description came after she used her voice and raised her voice to speak of freedom. Imagine this woman, transforming herself form a Marilyn Monroe imitating ingénue into a tool and an instrument for peace and justice. She, too, was searching for synchronicity, for alignment. One might argue that she found it and embraced it, embracing it for all of us.

I had the phenomenal pleasure of hearing Abbey Lincoln sing a bunch of times, but most recently when she graced an Indianapolis state in the mid-1990s.

I was the guest of a woman whose organization had engaged me to speak, and she was rather insistent that I’ enjoy Ms. Lincoln’s performance. Beyond enjoying it, the moment took my breath away. I can clearly remember her wrapping herself around a microphone to sing, “The world is falling down, hold my hand”. Powerful.

We do not need to hit three continents to find the synchronicity that is necessary. All we need to do is to remember who we are and whose we are. I wish Abbey Lincoln on Elizabeth Gilbert. I wish Abbey Lincoln, born Anna Maria Woolridge, on each and every one of us.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

We Can't Extend the Bush Tax Cuts

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(NNPA) - It took three months and a stern presidential scolding for the United States Senate to pass legislation that would extend unemployment insurance for more than 2.5 million Americans who have been out of work for a long time.

Why did the senate drag its feet? We couldn’t afford the $33 billion legislation, they said. We could afford a bank bailout, but not money for the unemployed? Many feel the legislation that finally passed on July xx will not do enough for the unemployed. It provides dollars for some, but what is really needed is a public works program, some real job creation.

I can already hear the deficit hawks posturing that we can’t afford it. At the same time, most Republican Senators are pushing to extend the Bush tax cuts, those cuts that in 2001 and 2003 contributed mightily to the existing deficit. Let’s not forget that when President George W. Bush came into office, the Clinton Administration had produced three years worth of surpluses, handing a healthy treasury over to Mr. Bush.

In contrast, Mr. Bush had deficits in seven of his eight years in office. While Republicans love to talk about shrinking the size of government and wasteful government programs, the Bush tax cuts are responsible for nearly half of the existing deficit, according to the Center for budget and Policy Priorities.

Now the Bush tax cuts are set to expire. Allowing them to lapse would put nearly $700 billion into the treasury. That’s enough to fund a jobs program or two, and enough to trim the existing deficit, as well. But the conservative mantra on finance is that if you repeat something often enough, it must be true. Some Republicans have said, “wasteful government spending” so much that Democrats who ought to know better have begun to believe it.

The House of Representatives have recessed for six weeks, and the Senate is likely to recess after taking action on legislation that would extend the Bush tax cuts. This sets legislators up, scant months before the 2010 election, to have a conversation about the economic direction of our country. The problem with the conversation is that it is being conducted in sound bites instead of analysis, with the assertion that deficits are bad dominating the conversation. Modest deficits have long been used effectively to foster economic growth and stability.

Republicans are drawing a political, not an economic, line in the sand, and Democrats, frightened of being labeled “tax and spend” are going along with them.

Even former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan agrees that letting the Bush tax cuts expire would not harm the economy. Most of those cuts went to people at the top of the income distribution, people who save, not spend, their money. If the cuts had been focused at the bottom end of the income distribution, letting them expire might cause more hardships on people who have already been hurt by our sluggish economy. But if the tax cuts had been focused on the bottom end of the income distribution, they would not have been Bush tax cuts. We are still paying the price for the tax cuts for the wealthy that Mr. Bush pushed a decade ago.

Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is an act of fiscal responsibility. In some ways, letting these cuts expires pumps needed dollars into our economy, both for existing programs and for deficit reductions. Those deficit hawks that say they want to reduce the deficit have an opportunity to do so, but their fealty to the flawed policies of the Bush Administration, and their desire to pick a midterm election political fight prevent them from acting responsibly.

So, among its other questionable actions, the Senate proposed cutting food stamps to pay for Medicare and teacher jobs. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in a tight re-election race, has too often embraced the Republican “pay go” argument to the detriment of the least and left out. For Democrats to allow Bush tax cuts to extend amounts to another capitulation. We need Democrats to show some backbone, and for Bush tax cuts, a bad idea when they were implemented in 2001 and 2003 to simply go away.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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