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Julianne Malveaux

Fighting Poverty on Two Fronts

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(NNPA) Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared a war on poverty. Appalled by the way too many Americans lived, he empowered federal workers to develop and implement programs that created jobs, health care, housing and legal assistance. Some of the funds were given to states, and some were given to cities. In any case, President Johnson was committed to closing income gaps, and up to a point, he was successful.

He had to overcome two sets of obstacles. One was Republican resistance (Sounds familiar?); the other was competing needs, especially, in 1968, of the war in Vietnam. Johnson poignantly explained his choices. He said he had to give up “the woman he loved – the Great Society – to get involved in that b—- of a war.”

President Obama, too, interested in issues of poverty and inequality. To be sure, these are not issues he focused on during his first term as president. Indeed, I’ve described his actions as late and great. He has spent this past month in speeches and gatherings addressing poverty and ways to eliminate it. Like Johnson, he is likely to face a hostile Congress and budged constraints to get these programs. Still, in highlighting just a few areas – Los Angeles, San Antonio, Philadelphia, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and Southeastern Kentucky – the president picked a good mix of urban and rural areas, as well as population diversity. Were I choosing, however, I’d add the District of Columbia, where President Obama could throw a stone to find the poorest area in Ward 8, and one of the richest areas in Ward 3. On this matter, though, I’ll not be a distractor. It’s about time the poor got some attention.

Tea Party Republicans, with waning power, are still insisting that any new program must be offset by cuts in existing programs. Their cuts in food stamps, for example, can be eliminated if the president and Democrats are willing to give something else. The president’s new poverty program must be matched, they say, by other cuts. These folks have effectively tied President Obama’s hands behind his back. Only Congress can loosen the restrictions of these ropes.

I often wonder whether Republicans represent any poor people, because their attacks on things such as food stamps hurt the people that keep voting for them. You’d never know they represent any poor people by the votes they take, their resistance to higher wages, and the ways the block programs designed to help the needy.

There is a movement afoot, though, to increase the minimum wage. At the federal level there are proposals to raise the wage by as much as $10 an hour. Some cities and states have already raised the wage that exceeds $10. This is the long-term result of the Occupy Movement that, whole failing to articulate specific goals, raised consciousness about the 1 percent. Now, people are considering tax breaks on the wealthy and insisting hat Congress look at ways that the poor are disadvantaged compared t the rich.

Some Republicans operate with an amazing arrogance, using the Bible to make their points against public assistance and food stamps. At least two have cherry picked the Bible, using that Thessalonians verse that says, “If you do not work, you cannot eat.” The Bible also talks about feeding the hungry, but these seem to be parts of the Bible that have escaped their notice.

Bible or not, the economic recovery is moving more slowly that anyone would like. The stock market has had tremendous gains, but the unemployment rate has dropped slowly for the overall population, and even slower for African Americans. The status of African Americans is hardly mentioned as economic analysts gloat about poverty, and some members of Congress have been downright derisive toward those who are jobless. These are the same people who voted down the president’s American Jobs Act I 2011.

President Obama is moving in the right direction by paying attention to poverty. Let’s hope Congress allows him to move from conversation to implementation.

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

My New Year Wishes

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(NNPA) Happy New Year! January first and second are the days when most think of the “new” year, yet with the first Monday in January falling on January 6, that’s probably when most people will return to their desks withy focused energy and ready to go. Post-its and scrawled notebook paper will trumpet “new” resolutions. Eat less, relax more, volunteer, tithe, save, all that good stuff. Some will even compose a bucket list of things they’d like to do before the end of their lives. Others will have a list of wants and wishes, both realistic and unrealistic. My wish list focuses on public policy, since better public policy means a better 2014.

I WANT JOBS, JOBS, JOBS FOR BLACK PEOPLE. With the last reported official unemployment rate for African Americans at 12.5 percent, and the unofficial rate exceeding 25 percent, I’d really like to see some more jobs in the African American community. Joblessness leads to poverty leads to all kinds of maladies. While the stock market is soaring, is it too much to ask for a little job creation? Don’t Republicans, also, represent unemployed people? Help me, somebody. By the way, I’d like more jobs for everyone, but first things first.

And while we’re at it, why not fairer (and more equal) wages. There is talk of raising the minimum wage to $10 or more by 2015, and some states are already moving to wage levels even higher. More than half of those now earning the minimum wage are raising children. If their employers don’t pay enough for them to live on, the government will end up subsidizing their employers’ (and them) with programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and Section 8. Ooops! Those programs are being cut as well. What is a poor person to do in a nation that is both hostile to poor people and also absolutely needs them?

I want President Obama to say “Black” or “African American” sometime other than Black History Month. And I’d like him to say it enthusiastically, not reluctantly. His December 4th speech on poverty issues in Washington, D.C. went a long way toward addressing the concerns (education, housing, poverty) of the least and the left out, but his lips won’t be permanently puckered in a putrid position if he managed to give his most loyal constituency a shout out. I guess I’ve been wishing for this for the past five years; I guess I’ll be wishing for the next few. (And don’t tell me that President Obama is president of everyone. He doesn’t cringe when saying Latino, women, or GBLT).

I want our Congress to think long-term and provide more dollars for education, and for HBCUs, especially, because need more resources; most colleges that enroll fewer than 1,500 students with small endowments can use help. Many of these institutions are tuition-driven which means that cuts in financial aid, in Pell grants or Parent-Plus loans cut these colleges hard. Cutting education while suggesting the labor force should be more skills based is like eating your seed corn while hearing that food must be saved for less plentiful times.

I WANT CONGRESS TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. As soon as another program is mentioned, recalcitrant Republicans and blue dog Democrats start worrying about cost. Here’s a thought – cut everything related to military spending except pensions. Or, how about getting rid of some of the hundreds of millions dollars spent on pork. What would happen if colleges such as Harvard and Yale (really, I’m not hating) got smaller grants or were required to partner with smaller schools when they get research grants, channeling a few dollars to those schools who really need them, and to the students who need ore research opportunities.

I want Obamacare to work well. If affordable health care is part of the Obama legacy, then I want it to work, really work. It will take time for the president to live down the computer debacle, and heads should have rolled in response to the faulty rollout of the program. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, Obamacare should be working seamlessly, and people should really be able to see a difference because Obamacare exists.

Bottom line – I’d like joy, peace, and economic justice by whatever means necessary. Happy New Year!

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

Fed to Player Lesser Role

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(NNPA) There are two ways to end a recession. One is to increase federal spending on the theory that people will spend more money when they have more money. Obviously this Congress doesn’t care about economic stimulation. They’ve cut budgets, not raised them. They failed to pass the jobs bill that President Obama proposed a year or so ago. They’ve cut the food stamps program. They closed the government down, causing millions economic hardship and caused others to carefully hold onto their funds, saving as opposed to spending. One might say that the Congressional failure to stimulate the economy has contributed to the length of the recession.

The Federal Reserve Bank has picked up some of the slack, buying $85 billion of bonds each month to put money into the economy. Some economists do not agree with the Fed’s action because it has artificially kept inflation down. Without the bond purchases, they argue, inflation would rise, and reflect the true value of goods and services. Without increased inflation, some businesses are holding onto cash instead of investing it, and others are adversely impacted.

Now, on reports that the economy is improving, the Fed says it will “taper” off their stimulus. Their tapering will not be a major shock to the economy. Instead of buying $85 billion of bonds each month, they’ll buy $10 billion less, or $75 billion. Why? They say a robust jobs report this month, with the unemployment rate at its lowest level in 10 years – 7 percent – suggests the job market is on the mend. Economic growth is higher, too, at 2.8 percent.

The Fed fails to consider the fact that the unemployment rate looks better because of the number of people who have dropped out of the labor market. If those people continued to look for work, the rate might be as high as it was last month. Furthermore, when you look at alternative measures of unemployment, the overall rate is 13.2 percent, the same as it was last month. The alternative report says that Black unemployment is 12.5 percent, but if it is extrapolated, that rate is 24 percent, or one in four African Americans. Some find this a low estimate based on their experiences with the African American population, especially those with lower-paying occupations. In any case, the unemployment rate for African Americans is entirely too high, and “economic recovery” has not trickled down.

What does Federal Reserve tapering mean to you? If you are in the stock market (African Americans 35 percent less likely than Whites to be in the stock market) you realized record gains next are far more likely to see the value of your portfolio rise in the short run. On the other hand, stock values are likely to correct (maybe fall) in the first quarter of 2014. Rising interest rates will also mean (in a year or so) that you’re the value of CDs and other interest-dependent investments will slowly increase in value (now you are getting between one and one and a half percent. On the other hand, as interest rates rise, the value of bonds will drop.

What about unemployment? If those holding dollars invest them, unemployment will drop slowly. We still have excess unemployment – the unemployment rate was about 5 percent at the beginning of the recession. We lost nearly a million jobs a month at the beginning of the recession, and in the past several months, we have gained about 300,000 jobs a month. It may take until 2015 to return to the level of employment from 2008 or early 2009.

In addition, in some occupations, the level of technological change has been rapid, and machines are doing the work that people once did. Furthermore because of the recession, some employers have found that they can make do with fewer employees. For example, we have seen drops in clerical employment as managers use computers more. In some offices as few as one or two employees do the work that half a dozen did just three years ago.

While investors are applauding the Fed move, workers should be wary of the “tapering” that will pull $10 billion a month from the economy. African American workers, especially, will be hit harder than others by these changes. Improved economy? For whom?

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

Where Bipartisanship is Out of Order

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(NNPA) Former Kansas Senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was recently presented with an award that is named after him. The World Food Program USA’s first George McGovern and Bob Dole Leadership Award, is named after the Senator and his friend and colleague, Senator George McGovern. The two teamed up in the 1970s to make food stamps easier to get and use. Today, Republicans in Congress have been adamant that food stamps should be cut.

Dole, a conservative, and McGovern, a liberal, were not always on the same page about poverty, government programs, and food stamps. Were they both in the Senate now, they would likely share the commitment to reduce or eliminate hunger and yet they might not agree on how much should be spent on the challenge. But surely, neither would be of the mind to cut the food stamps program as significantly as the Republicans of the 113th Congress would like to cut them. The GOP plan wants reductions of at least $40 billion over 10 years, eliminating about 4 million families from the program. Bipartisan relationships like those that Senators Dole and McGovern shared are rare these days because party lines have been so tightly drawn.

Thus, while some will celebrate the Patti Murray (D-Wash.), Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) budget that will prevent future government shutdowns (that is, as long as there is agreement on debt ceiling), I am among those that decry the hollow victory in the passage of this budget. Human needs are still sidelined to budget cutting zeal. Needs, including education, health, and other programs still experience cuts, reducing our investment in our nation’s future. The new budget deal is, perhaps, better than nothing, but it can barely be called bipartisan. It is better than nothing, but still quite disgraceful.

While the food stamp program was once paired with the farm bill in a way to create a “something for everyone” bipartisan approach, the uncoupled two bills allow farmers to gain while hungry people don’t. Still, failure to adjust aspects of the farm bill may cause milk prices to rise before Congress returns to work in January. No matter. Republicans in Congress seem to subscribe to the Marie Antoinette theory of food distribution. Let them eat cake. No worries for the hungry or the poor. There is cake somewhere. They just, says Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) “have to get a job”.

While budget-lite passed, the unemployment insurance extension did not. On December 28, 1.3 million long- term unemployed people will collect their last check, unless new legislation is passed in January. Congress says it “might” look at retroactive benefits. Get a job, Senator Paul? Really? Senator Paul apparently does not read the monthly Employment Situation, released last week.

While it indicated that the unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in November, it also reported that more than four million people have been unemployed for more than half a year. Additionally, the alternative measures of unemployment, which include part time and discouraged workers, suggest that real unemployment is 13.2 percent (and 25 percent for African Americans). Where are these unemployed people supposed to find jobs, when the federal government has removed itself from the job creation business even as our infrastructure continues to fray?

The unemployment insurance extension would cost $26 billion for two years. Budget balancers say that’s too much and pushes the federal budget into further deficit. The economy is hurt, not helped, when the unemployed don’t have money. Their inability to spend will slow economic recovery and will further slow job creation. The unwillingness to assist those considered “collateral damage” in our broken economy has less to do with fiscal responsibility than with the “get a job, let them eat cake” mentality embraced by so many Tea Party republicans.

To fully applaud the Murray/Paul budget is like applauding people for saying hello. It is a tenuous bipartisanship, and it is a compromised achieved on the backs of the hungry and the unemployed. The Murray/Paul budget is an example of the devolution of bipartisanship from the days when two men reached across the aisle to figure out how to reduce the amount of food insecurity in our nation.

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

Mandela's Road to Freedom

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(NNPA) If I close my eyes, I can remember 1984. I am among those running from meeting to meeting working to pass Proposition J, the San Francisco ballot initiative that required the city to divest pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa. The ballot initiative had to get two-thirds of the vote because it dealt with money, and even in progressive San Francisco, some thought getting votes out might be challenging. But a cross section of activists committed to divestment worked our tails off, and prevailed. San Francisco became among the first, and one of the largest, of our nation’s cities to divest public pension funds.

I wish I could distill the energy that came from those rallies and community meetings. I can remember, with just one eye shut, the chants and songs, “South Africa will be free, South Africa will be free, Will be free South Africa.” Students were among those to put themselves on the line for divestment, confronting their college and university leaders about the status of investments. The Free South Africa Movement was not a student movement, not a grass roots movement. It was simply a movement for justice that succeeded because many elements of our nation were involved.

Those of us who favored divestment were following the lead of the African National Congress, who asked allies around the world to make South Africa “ungovernable.” If massive divestment could stop the flow of dollars to South Africa (dollars that could be used to step up military action against innocent civilians), that would place pressure on the South African economy to make choices with dwindling resources. Would fighting to maintain apartheid be one of those? Divestment might make apartheid too expensive to maintain, or so we hoped. The divestment efforts contrasted sharply with the Sullivan Principles, crafted by the late Leon Sullivan, who asked US companies to stay in South Africa but only under certain conditions that dealt with fair pay and working conditions. Those American corporations doing business with South Africa were getting lots of flack for choosing oppressors as their business partners.

The death of Nelson Mandela causes these memories to rush back, memories of activism, of social change, of the conviction that change was coming. The Free South Africa Movement wasn’t a Black movement, or a White one; it was a movement for justice. The Free South Africa Movement, in Washington, D.C. and around the United States, had an uncommonly positive energy, even in the cynical Reagan era.

Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 2000, went on to be elected president of South African, to dismantle apartheid, and to begin the social and economic transition of South Africa. The rest of the story is history. When people speak of Mandela they will inevitably speak of his spirit of forgiveness, of the fact that even after having been unjustly jailed for 27 years, he was committed to reconciliation in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela projected a humble and forgiving spirit. His appearance of gentility was reassuring to many who expected someone formerly described as a “terrorist” to have little tolerance for the status quo. Still, a spirit of forgiveness is not a spirit that accepts social and economic inequality. President Mandela’s gentle spirit was a forgiving one, but not a forgetful one. As president, he managed to juggle competing constituencies, but he never retreated from his demand that justice be served.

It is not clear when the economic gap in South Africa will be closed, or even narrowed. In many ways, Black South Africans control the political sphere, while the white business establishments control the money, just as is the case in several cities in the U.S. South. People speak of Mandela’s “forgiveness” much as they speak of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “dream.” Can forgiveness be poured from a can of tinned milk to comfort the hungry child in the shanty? Is forgiveness a simple rhetorical term for those South Africans who are moving’ on up, and a broken promise for those who remain down here on the ground?

Nelson Mandela left us much to celebrate, and also much to ponder. Where does the movement for freedom and justice go from here, both in South Africa and in the rest of the world? Which young people have ideas innovative enough to get us past freedom to equality of opportunity? How does one ameliorate an imposed inequality from the decades-old system of apartheid, and is there a desire to do so?

And two decades ago, the idealists sang, marched, and chanted – “South Africa will be free. South Africa will be free. Will be free, South Africa.”

Ache’ Madiba. Thank you for your ferocious forgiveness and for your persistent perusal of justice.

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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