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Julianne Malveaux

Stimulating Students During Summer

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(NNPA) It’s mid-July. Do you know if your children are learning?  Just a month ago they were eager to leave the regimentation of the daily classroom to “enjoy the summer.” A month from now, many will prepare to return to school.  Will they return ready to hit the ground running in the fall?  Or, will they struggle to catch up because their summer activities were not stimulating enough to prevent learning losses.

Student’s score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than at the beginning of the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. That organization makes a strong case that young people must be engaged in summer learning and enrichment opportunities, because they lose as much as two months of math learning, and more than two months of reading proficiency without summer engagement. Of course, lower income students experience more losses, while middle-class students may gain proficiency during the summer.

The National Summer Learning Association says that at least half of the achievement gap between lower and higher income young people is a function of unequal access to summer learning opportunities. Some youngsters don’t have summer opportunities because they don’t know about them, others because they can’t afford them, and still others because they are needed at home. Some teens are tasked with taking care of younger siblings, though they might be better served in enrichment programs that would prepare them for the next school year.  Others must choose between work and summer enrichment programs, and when money matters, work wins over enrichment. And while subsidized summer enrichment programs are available, some students are unable to participate when even modest fees are required.

I’ve not spoken of race, only income, in examining the importance of summer enrichment programs. But because African American students are more likely to be low-income than others, we know that race matters here. We also know that space makes a difference as well.  There will be a greater variety of summer enrichment programs in affluent neighborhoods, as opposed to other neighborhoods. And while programs in affluent neighborhoods may offer scholarships for those who need assistance, transportation may become a barrier.  Whether excuses or explanations, the achievement gap speaks to differential outcomes.

While summer enrichment opportunities are differentially available, with Black and Brown young people less likely to have access to opportunities than others, some organizations are doing the work to ensure that young people are intellectually engaged during the summer, enabling them to return to school ready to do their best work.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and leading light of the Children’s Defense Fund, has developed a Freedom School program that teaches young people civil rights history along with basic skills. Organizations can purchase the curriculum and send staff for training in teaching it. Thousands of young people are being positively impacted by Freedom Schools.

Lots of local programs have developed programs that have elements similar to those at the CDF Freedom Schools.  A week or so ago, I began my morning with the young people at Washington D.C.’s Southeast Tennis and Learning Center for their “Read Aloud” program.  At about 8:30 in the morning, the youngsters, whose ages range from 6 to 15, gather in a circle to hear a book read to them, and to engage in an energetic and affirming ritual. I love the read aloud program because I love looking into the eyes of these young people, to imagine the leaders they will become.

I read Faith Ringgold’s Aunt Harriett’s Underground Railroad in the Sky as selected students acted out the words, joined me in song, and applauded each other as the story came to an end.  Flashback to preadolescence – the students who played the parts of Cassie and Bebe, a sister and brother separated moving along the railroad were supposed to hug when reunited. While the young man was “up” for the hug, the young woman looked like she wanted to run in another direction.

The Read Aloud program ends with a rousing group rendition of Labi Siffre’s “Something Inside,” complete with choreographed hand gestures and motions.  Every morning, these 50 or so young’uns are affirming themselves through song. The adults who participate in the Read Aloud program are politicians and business leaders, artists and educators.  If they are anything like me, they leave uplifted by the children and their promise of resilience.

I’m encouraging those who can to help with a summer enrichment program. Spend a day, a few afternoons, and maybe more time to help provide a summer experience.  Funding helps provide great summer opportunities for our youth, and informal programs with a couple of retired teachers and a church basement can go a long way, as well.  We cannot afford is to widen the achievement gap by leaving too many of our young people unengaged this summer.

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

Ikea and the Gap Fill the Wage Gap

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(NNPA) President Obama would like the national minimum wage to rise to $10.10 an hour. By executive order, he has already raised the minimum wage for federal contractors.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has threatened to sue President Obama for his use of executive order, which he says circumvents Congressional authority.

Ikea said it will raise the average minimum wage to $10.76 an hour, which is an increase of 17 percent.  Ikea says its goal is to offer their workers a living wage, regardless of whether their competitors offer it.  Half of Ikea employees will get a raise, while those who already earn a living wage will not. The chain now provides other benefits, such as a 401-k match. Ikea has just 38 stores in the United States, which may minimize the impact their wage increase has on its competitors.  Still, Ikea has done the right thing and earned a competitive advantage in the areas where they have stores.

The Gap, too, has increased its wage to $9 an hour, which will rise to $10 an hour next year.  Seattle has raised its minimum wage to $15, and dozens of municipalities have also increase their minimum wage.  When employers and municipalities fail to offer a living wage, they shift a wage burden to the rest of us because those who earn the minimum wage are subsidized by federal benefits to the poor, which we all pay.

This is also true when states refuse to expand the base for Medicaid for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).  In more than 20 states, people have to earn less than $11,000, or $23,000 for a family of four. With Medicaid expansion, people can earn as much as $15,000 to qualify for Medicaid, and as much as $32,000 for a family of four. Without the Medicaid expansion, some states are saying that poverty and poor health are acceptable for some of its citizens.

The moves by Ikea and the Gap put some wage pressure on their competitors.  It also makes it clear that these companies understand that raising wages will not significantly affect their profits.  These companies also understand that better paid employees are also productive employees.  Memo to fast food and big box stores set on paying the minimum wage or little more – pay your workers a living wage.

Ikea gets it, so does the Gap.  What’s wrong with the Congress?  Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, they have constituents who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.  Why are they resisting?  Might it be because President Obama has pushed for an increase in the minimum wage?  If our President pushed for blue skies it is likely that some obstructionist members of Congress would oppose it.

If the minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.90 by now, a bit higher than the amount President Obama has proposed.  The same Congress that opposes an increase in the minimum wage gets an automatic increase in their pay. This is the kind of hypocrisy that engenders indifference and contempt for our elected representatives.

Some members of Congress have insisted that only young people earn the minimum wage.  But at least 12 percent of the labor force earns the minimum wage.  One in four of them are over 20.  Sixty percent are women.  One in four of those who earn the minimum wage are parents, supporting children on wages so low that they qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).

One in six African Americans and one in five Latinos earn the minimum wage.  Nearly 35 percent of minimum wage workers have graduate from high school; another 23 percent have attended college. Some would say that minimum wage workers are mostly youth who are “training” for later work. These workers are not only young people who don’t need to get paid.  These are adults with education and training, parents, and people who work in key industries, health and education.

During the Great Recession, six-figure executives who needed an income stream accepted the minimum wage or just a little more.  There were teachers, laid off, who took a pay cut to shelve books in libraries.  They were folks who put their pride aside to earn a little money, money they said was better than the nothing they earned when laid off.

It is overtime for our congress to offer working people the same wages they get automatically.  It is overtime for our Congress to embrace a living wage, or at least a higher minimum wage.  Ikea gets it, why doesn’t Congress?

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

Blacks have not Recovered from the Recovery

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(NNPA) Judging from its June 18-19 meeting, the Federal Reserve is hedging its bets. It says the U.S. economy is on the mend, but more slowly than expected. They’ve reduced their estimate for economic growth and say that it will take a year or more to get to where we were six years ago.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered a starker forecast. Expected growth for the United States is about 3 percent, a level considered “normal” and “in recovery.” They projected something right above 2 percent earlier this year. Now, they say the United States economy will grow at about 1.9 percent, below robust recovery, and that it will take until 2018 to get the labor market back on track.

Meanwhile, the stock market seems to signal a healthy recovery, and surveys of human resource professionals found that more employers are offering signing and retention bonuses to get the best employees and to keep them. Obviously, the nearly 10 million people who are unemployed aren’t being offered any kind of bonuses. Most of them just want work. That’s not to mention the 3.4 million people who have not worked in half a year or more. Bonus? Please.

The economic recovery is as bifurcated as our economic reality has always been. The Occupy folks estimated it in a way that galvanized energy and spoke some truth. Does the top 1 percent of our population get all the benefits of economic growth? Just about. One of the most telling statistics deals with race and recovery. Aggregately, Whites and Asians Americans have fully recovered from economic shortfalls, African Americans have seen their wealth rebound by only 45 percent. They have lost 55 percent of wealth, bearing a disproportionate burden from this recovery.

When we parse the data by class, we learn that President Obama’s focus on the middle class leaves the poor where they have always been – at the periphery of economic progress. Until the job markets open up at entry level, instead of providing opportunities for the middle class and higher, the recovery will not trickle down. Meanwhile, there are members of Congress who truly believe that the unemployed are jobless because they want to be. These are folks who apparently refuse to read the data about the search for work.

What does economic recovery look like? It looks like vibrancy. It looks like people joyfully working. It looks like people who spend, if not freely, certainly less cautiously. They don’t have to run an algorithm in their brain before they decide that their child can have an ice cream cone. It means being able to put a few pennies aside for college possibilities. It means having a moment to exhale.

For all the talk of Wall Street exuberance and economic recovery, there are millions who are still waiting to exhale. While we mostly focus on the officially unemployed, the equally pressing concern is about those who are underemployed, working part time when they want to work full time. All of these folks are in the job search mix, and they are too often the people we ignore.

In many ways this is also a “race matters” narrative. Economic recovery looks great for some, good for others, and absolutely dismal for those at the bottom. The unofficial unemployment rate among African Americans remains at someplace near 25 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics won’t measure that, because then they will have to report the economic failure inherent in this so-called economic recovery.

The Federal Reserve and the IMF are reporting economic projections that trickle down. They say the economic recovery will not happen as quickly as they once projected, and that they have a “wait and see” attitude. The Fed is moving closer to raising interest rates, and are withdrawing from their bond buying program that fostered economic stability.

Their “wait and see” really means pulling back, which may help the overall economy. When will those on the bottom, the least, the last, and the left out, experience recovery? Until those who make public policy are prepared to deal with persistent economic bifurcation, economic recovery looks good for some, dismal as ever for others.

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

A Pledge to Keep to our Youth

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(NNPA) As young people graduate from high school, or finish the school year as sophomores and juniors, they begin to search for summer jobs. For the past several summers, the jobs have not been there, and this summer will be no different. It is true that economists are projecting a better employment situation for the college graduates who are entering the labor market now. At the same time, those high school graduates who must save money for college incidentals or for other needs will have a hard time finding work.

The Brookings Institute says that in our nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas, the employment prospects for teens and young adults dropped drastically. Indeed, Brookings used the word “plummeted” to describe changes the employment situation between 2000 and 2011. White youth had an official unemployment rate of 15.9 percent in April, while African American youth have a rate of 36.8 percent, more than twice the white rate. These are just the official numbers. The unofficial numbers would suggest that a third of White youth, and about 70 percent of Black youth, are out of work.

Many choose to focus on adult unemployment. And certainly, the ability of adults to support their families is of greater concern. But in addition to earning money, the 16-19 year old population benefits from summer jobs because they learn work habits, such as promptness and appropriate dress, when they are exposed to the labor market. Many who do not find summer employment will find that later an employer will prefer someone who has worked to someone who had not.

In the past, some city governments have provided resources to help put young people to work. In economic hard times (though some say they are improving), it is often easier for young people to find unpaid opportunities than those that generate income. That’s fine for those who can afford to work for free, but there is a definite class bias when unpaid internships are considered. Those whose parents are moderate earners are more likely to be willing or able to work without pay. Yet, unpaid internships are often stepping-stones to lucrative paid employment opportunities.

The youth employment situation is dire, and it is all the more dire when our rhetoric about valuing youth is examined. How often have you been to an event focused on youth issues that played the Whitney Houston song, The Greatest Love of All? The song begins with the words, “I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” What are we teaching our youth when we fail to provide opportunities for them?

We have made it more difficult for young people to find summer work, and more difficult for them to attend college, but very easy to fast track them into the criminal justice system. We are determining our nation’s future tomorrow by our actions today.

All youth are not in the same position. Race, class, and ethnicity shape the opportunities presented to young people. The offspring of the top 1 percent certainly don’t have to worry about summer jobs or college costs. And some children of the 1 percent can murder with impunity. A Texas teen got probation for killing four people when he was so drunk that his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit. His defense said he suffered from “affluenza,” which means he had too much money to have any sense. The judge bought the bizarre argument.

This summer, some will complain that young’uns playing with fire hydrants will bring water pressure down (fix that by opening the pools), or that youngsters gathering in the street are a nuisance (so open a playground). We’ll hear about literacy challenges (keep libraries open longer hours), and other ways that the young people who are out of school occupy themselves. Job creation, summer programs, and other links between school and work possibilities are all ways to connect our young people to opportunities. It costs money now, but as a dear friend, the late Charles Franklin said, “you have to pay, but if you wait too long, you will pay penalties and interest.”

Our beloved ancestor Maya Angelou wrote, “A Pledge to Rescue Our Youth” at Essence former editor Susan Taylor’s request and it was read at the 2006 Essence Music Festival. These are the last lines of her charge, “You are the best we have. You are all we have. You are what we have become. We pledge you our whole hearts from this day forward.”

We can’t afford to discard that pledge.

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

Remembering Maya Angelou

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(NNPA) Many people will remember Maya Angelou for her phenomenal career. She was a true renaissance woman – an author, teacher, dancer, performer, radio personality and a producer. I will remember her a sister friend, a wise “auntie” who didn’t mind pulling your coat. She was a generous spirit who made time for virtually any who asked, a gentle and kind spirit.

If you dropped by when a meal was being served, she asked you to sit down and enjoy the assembled company. If you came and it was not the meal hour, she never hesitated to offer a cup of tea and a snack. She knew before you did that you needed a hug an encouraging word. I’ve seen her take the hat off her head and give it to someone who admired it,

She shared her work. It was not unusual to sit at her working table and listen to a poem or some wisdom she was sharing. Sitting at her table one day, I decided to put some of her words in my cell phone, thinking that I’d like to review them one day. She very gently took the phone from me and told me, “Just listen. You don’t have to write everything down. I am giving you my undivided attention and I want the same from you.” Properly chastened, I left the phone on the table for the rest of the visit.

Sister Maya loved people, genuinely and unconditionally. When asked about the greatest virtue, she said that it was courage, the courage to love. She loved everyone, the pauper and the princess. She would often list the way she loved, mentioning the Black and White, the Asian and Latino, a one-eyed man and the woman who is missing a leg. And if you had the privilege of attending her Thanksgiving dinner, you saw exactly that – a rainbow of the peeped she loved.

Each year that I served as president of Bennett College in North Carolina, she visited the campus and gave a lecture to students. Once, I asked her to spend time with the honor students and she told me, sharply. “I would rather spend time with the students at the bottom. They are the ones who need encouragement.

She opened her home, the sculpture garden and the pool to a group of pre-teens from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Washington, D.C. Escorted by Cora Masters Berry, the former first lady of Washington, the girls could not stop talking about her generosity and the words she shared with them. I wondered how a woman whom most consider an icon would take the time to entertain five 11-year-olds for a couple of hours.

That was Maya.

The first time I remember sharing a meal with her was in 1989 when the women who appeared in Brian Laske’s “I Dream a World” were gathered for a reception. When two women I accompanied left as soon as the program was over, Auntie Maya (which she asked me to call her) graciously invited me to dine with her friends. My 30-something self basked in the attention.

Mid-reception, a man attempted to get everyone’s attention (and with a room with Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni and others, you can imagine who difficult it was). The gentleman whistled and Auntie Maya, gathered herself to full height, chided the man with a rebuke and also an impromptu poem. “You will not whistle at Black women,” she said. “We had enough of that when we were chattel. You will respect us as the women that we are.” She went on and by the time she was finished, not a word was uttered by anyone else.

“We have already been paid for,” she frequently said, recounting the horror of slave ships, the harsh conditions of slavery, the inequalities of Jim Crow, and contemporary instances of inequality. She spoke so vividly that you could see the people crowded into a ship, with not even enough room or facilities to attend to bodily functions. She frequently quoted Paul Lawrence Dunbar: “ I know why the caged bird sings.”

The last time I heard the song was at dinner with San Francisco’s Rev. Cecil Williams, and his wife and poetess, Jan Mirikatini. We loved up on each other and told stories, released and enjoyed the conversational flow. We ended the evening with laugher and fellowship. It was the kind of evening in which we reveled. Good food, good talk, good friends.

As I got my walk on the next morning, I was flooded with appreciation and memories. I was in a rich space and I had been fed. I paused to appreciate Auntie Maya. I was so very grateful to know her, not as an icon, but as a friend.

At the end of her life, Auntie Maya was frail. “Getting old ain’t for sissies,” she said. As Blame Bayne wrote on my Facebook page, “No longer caged, she forever sings.” Ache Auntie Maya, Ache.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. Parts of this column appeared in USA Today on May 29.

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