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Julianne Malveaux

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.

Thanksgiving and other Myths

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(NNPA) Theoretically, Thanksgiving celebrates the breaking of bread between Native Americans and Pilgrims, who might have starved where it not for the generosity of those who first occupied this country. This history is written as if were a moment of friendship and fellowship, notwithstanding the fact that there were Pilgrims who, no sooner than they rose from the turkey-laden dinner table, were plotting ways to take over Native American land. That part of the story is rarely told. Native Americans might have been better off had they shared their meal with snakes (maybe they did) than sharing with the murderous Pilgrims.

Pilgrims and their descendants developed the myth of the shared Thanksgiving. The myth leaves out the unprovoked massacre of tens of thousands on Native Americans because the same Pilgrims who needed food also needed land. They proceeded, systematically, to remove Native people from their own land. Too many history books portray Native American people as savages, and much of the fiction that derives from that era portrays Pilgrims as frightened victims. Native people are portrayed as predators eager to “scalp” the Pilgrims and later, those soldiers who attempted to take Midwest lands. Yet who would not defend their land? And why were people, the original inhabitants of this land, dumped into reservations?

No wonder many Native American people consider Thanksgiving Day a national day of mourning. No wonder many protest the conventional interpretation of Thanksgiving Day. No wonder so many bristle and the lens of history that allows distortion and the celebration of Pilgrim theft.

To add insult to injury, Thanksgiving Day has now devolved into a capitalistic orgy of excessive spending. Commercial establishments open much of the day on the Day of Mourning, and on the next day, described as “Black Friday.” The day is so named because spending on that day is likely to put many companies “in the black.” The Thanksgiving season is less a season of mourning, or even thanksgiving, as an excessive capitalist debacle. People have actually been stomped to death as others stepped over them to race for bargains.

The mythology is similar with Christmas Day, which is supposed to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Historians note that the season of celebration is wrong, and that aspects of the story are rife with myth. Sometimes, however, myth simply allows people something to believe in. Most egregious to Christians, however, is the say that Christmas becomes X-Mas, and the day becomes less about the birth of Christ than about the presents people put under a tree. Equally annoying is the Santa Claus myth of a pudgy little man wearing a red hat and sporting long a How many children know more about Santa Claus than the real meaning of the day.

Like the Thanksgiving season, the Christmas season has also become a season of crass capitalism, as consumers flock to department stores for “after Christmas sales.” Profligate spending in November and December represents as much as 20 percent of annual spending, though a typical monthly spend is about 8 percent. No wonder there is an endless promotion for spending during this time period. And no wonder customers respond.

The Kwanzaa holiday, as created by Maulana Karenga has its share of myth. Karenga developed Kwanzaa as a way of celebrating universal values that have special meaning for African American people. One of the principles is celebrated each day ending, on January 1, with the final principle Imani, or faith. Crass spending and gift giving is discouraged. It is true that Karenga “made up” the Kwanzaa holiday as a way of bringing African American people together to reflect on values, with the placement of it after Christmas as an alternative to the mutation of the Christmas holiday, and also a holiday more meditative and secular than Christmas. Myth?

The “first fruit,” or first harvest, is more likely to occur in fall than in winter. Maulana Karenga must be horrified that the capitalists have been able to corrupt Kwanzaa with Kwanzaa cards on sale from commercial companies, using Kwanzaa more as a profit making than a contemplative occasion. In the name of cultural diversity, people walk around saying “Happy Kwanzaa” as if it is the same as “Merry Christmas.”

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are examples of the way we use myth either to denigrate or to elevate. The celebration of these holidays also reminds us of the biased lens of history, a lens that needs to be examined.

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

Walmart Workers Shouldn't Have to Donate Food to Co-workers

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(NNPA) For the past year, an organization called OUR Walmart, has protested, raised questions and asked their employer, one of the nation’s largest companies, to treat them fairly. They have asked for better wages, more full-time hours, and for the opportunity to earn benefits.

Walmart has responded with well-timed publicity moves. They will allow same sex couples health insurance and other benefits, but only if someone is working full time (at least a third of Walmart workers are employed part time). There were headlines about the same-sex marriage benefit, but none about the low wages that many receive, and the hurdles they must clear to get the health care benefit.

The average Walmart worker earns $8.81 an hour; but too many earn the minimum wage ($7.25 cent an hour), even as they work part time. According to Walmart’s CEO. at least half of its workers earn less than $25,000 a year, which isn’t enough to live on in a city with living costs as high as those in Washington, D.C. Yet, Walmart threatened to withdraw from agreements they had with the District of Columbia when the City Council said they would require a $12.50 minimum wage from “big box” stores.

With the District caught between a rock and a hard place – no jobs or low-paying jobs – they blinked and subscribed to the notion that any job is better than no job. The District will end up subsidizing those workers who can’t make it with their Walmart pay. They’ll be the ones lining up for food stamps, subsidized housing, and other income-enhancing programs.

No wonder Walmart wants to help workers during this holiday season. In Canton, Ohio, and in other Walmart stores, managers are asking workers to donate food so that their coworkers may have a pleasant Thanksgiving. If Walmart paid associates enough, workers would not have to transfer food and opportunities to their colleagues. Indeed, since most Walmart stores have a food section, why wouldn’t the company offer their lowest paid workers a gift certificate for $100 or so? Or, why not just pay workers so they don’t need to seek holiday supplements during the holidays. Walmart doesn’t want to pay people what they are worth, just what they can get away with.

Walmart chooses to suppress wages, so they have also made a choice to encourage some workers to provide token assistance for their coworkers who are not well paid. Walmart has put the onus of fair pay on workers helping one another, not the company helping its workers. While many Walmart employees will be concerned enough abut their colleagues to contribute, they must also ask why a food drive is necessary. In asking that question, they might also ask what impact food stamp cuts will have on their colleagues.

There is nothing magic about the $12.50 an hour wage. Some jurisdictions will push their minimum wage to $11 an hour and others will ask for more. Many retail workers say that a $15 an hour wage is the least that they can survive on. A household headed by two part-time Walmart workers qualifies for a number of federal programs. If Walmart paid each of its workers $12.50 an hour, the pay increase would not substantially reduce profit. Indeed, the profit stream might increase if employers are more productive, less likely to seek new jobs, and more likely to exercise pride in their work.

The National Labor Relations Board just announced that it would prosecute Walmart for its illegal treatment – firing or disciplining – 117 striking workers. Many of these actions were initiated in last year’s “Black Friday” when some workers did not want to work Thanksgiving Day or the day after, and others used the occasion to educate the public about their low pay levels.

This year Walmart will open at 6 a.m, two hours earlier than last year. Your dinner will hardly be digested before you head to the store. So while Walmart profess to be concerned about some workers having a good Thanksgiving dinner, they are hardly concerned about when they will have the opportunity to enjoy it, unless they opt for the Thanksgiving dinner Walmart will offer to its “associates” who are forced to work on Thanksgiving.

Enough, Walmart! Pay the people fairly. Pay them wages not giveaways. Stop threatening organizers. Have respect for your workers. Live up to the publicity that you keep churning out. Indeed, divide the publicity budget among your workers who will sing your praises when they are paid a living wage.

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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