A+ R A-

Julianne Malveaux

The Burden of Unemployment

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Unemployment rates were “little changed” in March 2013 – they were either holding steady or dropping by a tenth of a percentage point or so. The unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 to 7.6 percent representing a steady, if painstakingly slow, decrease. This declining unemployment rate was reported with some circumspection because even as the rate dropped, nearly half a million people left the labor market, presumably because they could not find work. Further, in March, the economy generated a scant 88,000 jobs, fewer than in any of the prior nine months. An economy that many enjoy, describing as “recovering,” has not yet recovered enough to generate enough jobs to keep up with population increases.

Of course, there are variations in the unemployment rate, which is 6.7 percent for Whites, but 13.3 percent for African Americans. Hidden unemployment pushes the actual White rate up to 13.8 percent and the Black rate to 24.2 percent. More than 4.6 million Americans have been out of work for more than 27 weeks.

I parse these numbers on the first Friday of each month and note the vacillations in these rates. In the past four years, we have seen a downward drift in rates, but it neither been as rapid or as inclusive as we might like. We know that, in spite of talk of economic recovery, job creation is stagnant, not keeping up with increases in the population. In no month have we created the 300,000 jobs we need to “catch up” and push unemployment rates down.

We should pay attention to unemployment vacillations, but we might also consider the human cost of unemployment. Those who are unemployed experience malaise, displacement, and often depression. This malaise, or worse, affects dynamics in families, workplaces, and communities.

Some workers exhale when they dodge the bullet of a layoff. Next, they inhale when they realize that, thanks to layoffs, their workload will increase. In families and communities, the unemployment of just one person has a series of unintended costs for those close to them.

Speaking to the National Association of Black Social Workers conference last week, I reminded them that social workers are among those who bear the burden of unemployment. These committed public servants work with the threat of layoffs in their worksites, given sequestration and state budget cuts. Yet they are also challenged to advise those who have experienced the fate they may have to grapple with themselves. As employment is cut among social workers, others are forced to take on larger caseloads. Unless some of these social workers are superhuman, there will be clients who will slip between the cracks.

Heretofore, we have mostly looked at unemployment data as a reflection of the number of jobs our economy generates. We’ve also looked at those who hold them, those who lose them, and what this means in terms of poverty, education, and community health. We could expand our understanding of the employment situation if we looked at those who bear its burden.

There are politicians who rail that people are unemployed because they are lazy. The fact is people are unemployed because the economy is not generating enough jobs. The French philosopher, Albert Camus, mused, “Without work all life is rotten.” Everybody wants to be useful; and until “use” is defined as something other than paid employment, many will feel marginalized because of their vocation situation.

When unemployed, people hear about our “recovering” economy. They wonder what is wrong with them. We all need to wonder what is wrong with an economy that generates such unemployment. We need to wonder about an economy that has soaring stock prices and robust corporate profits, while so many individuals are struggling financially. We need to do more to include those at the margins into the vitality of our “recovering” economy. And we need to understand that if one in four African Americans and one is six of the overall population, experiences unemployment, this is not a personal problem, but a societal one. Will our society fix it, or let it roll? And who pays?

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

Medical Condescension Can be Deadly

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Anna Brown, a St. Louis-based homeless woman, needed treatment for a sprained ankle. She went to three emergency rooms seeking treatment. In the third hospital, St. Mary’s Health Center, Brown was emphatic about needing care. Instead of being treated, she was arrested for trespassing, and died in a jail cell. Was she ill-treated because she was homeless? Black? Broke? All three? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the hospital that failed to treat her may have contributed to her death.

Too many African Americans are treated in emergency rooms as criminals, not people in need of health services. After learning of the Anna Brown case, a sisterfriend shared that she had such an extreme anxiety attack that her 10-year-old son called 911. When she got to the emergency room (with health insurance, thank you), she was queried about her use of drugs and alcohol, not her health condition. It was only after her blood was tested that she was treated. So she spent four agonizing hours on a hospital bed with raspy breath, a frightened son, and no medical care.

She isn’t the only one who was mistreated. African American and Latino men with broken bones are less likely to get pain medication than others. Even children of color are less likely to receive painkillers than White children, because some physicians think they are faking the severity of their pain. When we look at health disparities and wonder why African Americans are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failures, breast cancer, AIDS and other diseases, one might point to the many ways that doctors, especially those in emergency rooms, signal that Black pain is not worth treating. The result is that someone who is really hurting chooses to forgo medical care instead of dealing with medical condescension and arrogance.

To our society’s shame, emergency rooms often become the health providers of last resort. Those without a regular physician are stuck going to an emergency room when all else fails. A cold becomes the flu and the flu becomes pneumonia and only when a patient is struggling for breath does she seek treatment in an emergency room. I can understand a doctor’s frustration because the patient did not deal with her challenges earlier. But well-paid emergency room doctors need to do their work without judgmental attitudes getting in their way.

Anna Brown deserved to be treated as a human being. She deserved to be treated as someone who was struggling with pain. Instead, she was treated as a criminal because she insisted on care. Thus, she was accused of trespassing, instead of being treated as someone who was hurting.

While many would describe our society as post-racial that is a specious and inaccurate description of the world in which we live. Racism muddies the water that we all swim in, and physicians are not exempted. Those who swim in muddy water reflect the muddy attitudes that are prevalent in our society. Many doctors consider themselves “culturally sensitive” but they have come to certain conclusions about poor folks, Black folks, and others that they treat. It is easier to write off a woman like Anna Brown than it is to find out what is really wrong with her.

The Hippocratic oath that physicians swear to says “first, do no harm.” From the facts that have been published about Anna Brown though, this homeless 29-year-old mother of two was harmed by a medical indifference that landed her in a jail cell instead of a hospital bed. The tragedy is that Anna Brown is not the only one who has been treated this way.

We have health disparities because people are treated differently in our health care system. We cannot talk about closing gaps without talking about the ways that medical attitudes shape the medical experience for those who are so underserved that they come to emergency rooms for help. While the jury is out on the ways that Obamacare will reform our health care system, the intent of health care reform is to eliminate tragedies like Anna Brown’s.

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

Can We All Just Get Along?

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) I never considered the late Rodney King anything of a philosopher, but as one observes Washington shenanigans, especially around fiscal matters, it seems that Brother King had a point. Can we all just, maybe, get along?

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Senate finally passed a budget by the narrowest of margins, 50-49. Four Democratic Senators jumped ship to side with Republicans, probably because they are facing tough election fights in Republican leaning states. Still, it was great to see some vision from this Senate, which called for a $1 trillion in tax increases and $875 billion in program cuts. Unlike proposals presented by the likes of Paul Ryan, who would eviscerate social programs, the Senate offers a budget that cuts social and other programs more carefully and thoughtfully. Since this is the first budget the Senate has passed in four years, one might think that they should be congratulated. But the passage of a Senate budget is only the first step. Now, the Senate and the House of Representatives have to find some common ground.

Former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis) chairs the House Budget Committee and he chairs it like he thinks he is still running for office. He claims that he can save $4 trillion more than Democrats by turning Medicare into a voucher program and slashing Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps), and other safety net programs. How will the Senate and House resolve their differences when Republicans basically refuse to bargain, and Democrats will give away the store if given an opportunity? If half of the Democrats in the Senate had the backbone of House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner, the people of the United States would be in a better position.

We can’t get along if we go along with nonsense such as a voucher program for senior health. As it is, some hospitals are closing or consolidating, largely because of the number of poor and elderly people who use those facilities. While Ryan is talking slash and burn, Obamacare, albeit imperfect, expands health care possibilities for everyone. We can’t get along with cuts in SNAP that leave more people hungry. The average monthly income for those who receive SNAP assistance is less than $700. That means families who receive this benefit are working part-time or not at all, not an unusual occurrence when the unemployment rate remains higher than 7 percent overall and 13 percent for African Americans. We can’t get along with proposals to cut educational funding, knowing education opens doors for generations to come.

How, then, will they fill the gap between the lean budget passed by Senate Democrats, and the austerity budget passed by Republicans? It is up to we, the people. A few weeks ago, a friend proposed organizing a March that would bring thousands to Washington as these budget deliberations continue to remind the Senate and the House that we are watching them. As this is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, many marches are being planned to commemorate that critical date. But it might also be meaningful if Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign were also reenacted. Dr. King’s vision of bringing thousands to occupy government offices to highlight the needs of the poor was never fully realized, and the current gap between the House and Senate suggests that the poor will be more harshly treated now than they were two generations ago.

When one contrasts the House Budget with the one that comes from the Senate, one realizes that there are two starkly different visions of our country. We were presented with these stark choices when Mr. 47 Percent Romney faced off against President Obama. One could hardly call our president a flaming liberal. People chose the humanitarian Obama vision of the world instead of the elitist austerity that Romney exemplified. The people have spoken, but the politicians can’t hear.

The people are talking, the politicians are posturing, and millions are wondering how they will survive if a Ryan budget passes. Why can’t we all get along?

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

U.S. and Europe, not the Catholic Church, Blowing Smoke

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) The selection of Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the next leader of the Catholic Church was, in some ways, inevitable. Latin America is home to the largest Catholic population in the world, and it has been more than past time for the tradition of selecting European popes to end. Hopefully, Cardinal Bergoglio, to be known as Pope Francis, will be able to stem the tide of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as well as put the church on the path of more transparency and integrity. Proposals to allow women to be priests and to allow married priests into the clergy are, for Catholics, revolutionary ways to modernize the church. Pope Francis, who brings a reputation of frugality and humility to the church, may well be able to deal with these proposals.

With some competition for the papal position, I am not sure why the College of Cardinals settled on Pope Francis. A nod to diversity may or may not have played a role in the selection. Still, Catholic cardinals have been able to embrace diversity in ways that other world institutions have not. When we look at world monetary institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – we find no such nods to the way that world demographics and realities have changed. While the United States and Europe are still seen as trend leaders in world economic matters, China is nipping at our heels, and both Latin America and the African continent, despite internal problems, are world players. These continents are excluded from G8 meetings where global economic leaders gather to talk policy.

The custom that the United States should nominate the head of the World Bank, and that Europe should nominate the head of the International Monetary Fund speaks to the hegemony that these two countries have assumed in world monetary matters. When Christine Lagarde was selected to lead the International Monetary Fund (succeeding the disgraced Dominique Strauss-Khan), France declared their “victory.” But, Lagarde faced unprecedented competition from countries out of the US/Europe monopoly. A Mexican finance minister threw his hat in the ring, and attracted attention, if not sufficient votes to outpoll Lagarde.

Similarly, the U.S. nominee to lead the World Bank was former Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim. While Kim is Korean born, as President Obama’s nominee to lead the bank, he maintains the tradition of a U.S. nominee to lead the bank. He has also been criticized for his lack of monetary experience. At the same time, the amazing Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a Nigerian economist, was a strong contender for World Bank leadership. Apparently the selection of a woman of African descent was too far of a stretch for the bank.

Speaking of stretches, why has President Obama been so unable to find African Americans for his cabinet? Only Attorney General Eric Holder and International Trade Representative Ron Kirk remain in the cabinet, and Kirk is not a key cabinet member. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, has taken on the president in a stern letter that reflects the concern of many in the African American community. Why, when Obama garnered 97 percent of the African American vote, should the African American community be so underrepresented in the Obama cabinet? Is the Obama administration running behind the conservative Catholic Church in its commitment to diversity?

Either for diversity or for merit, the College of Cardinals stepped outside its history of European domination to select a Pope from Argentina. What might have happened if the World Bank had decided to step outside the tradition of U.S. domination to select a candidate as qualified as Ngozi Iweala who, one might argue, is a far superior candidate to the U.S. selection of Jim Yong Kim? What might have happened if France had not assumed that another French leader instead of someone outside the US/Europe sphere should replace its flawed leader of the International Monetary Fund?

If our country ever gets its economics straight (instead of continuing the crisis of the month club), it will continue to be a world leader, though not forever. World demographics are changing. Catholic cardinals acknowledged it. Why can’t the U.S. and Europe?

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

Black Unemployment has not Improved

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) When unemployment numbers were released on Friday, commentators reacted joyfully. Alan Krueger, who heads the White House Council of Economic Advisors, described the creation of 247,000 jobs as a victory because the predictions were that the economy would only generate 170,000 jobs. Unemployment rates went down to 7.7 percent, while predictions were that they would drop to 7.8 percent. Some might call this good news, but many might wonder who is affected by this good news.

A deeper examination of the unemployment data shows the disappointing reality that African American unemployment rates remained level, at 13.8 percent. Meanwhile, White unemployment rates fell to 6.8 percent and the rate for White men dropped to 6.3 percent. The racial disparities in unemployment rates are not new, but it is hypocritical to celebrate a drop in White unemployment rages, without noticing or mentioning the stagnation in Black unemployment rates.

More than new construction jobs were generated last month, but since Black unemployment rates remained level, that suggests that African Americans are not being brought into that industry (if at all) at the same rates that Whites. Implicitly, these data make the case for continued affirmative action, especially in well-paid jobs. In times of economic hardship, those hiring are inclined to look after their own instead of spreading the jobs around. And recent data suggests that African Americans enter the labor market with a shallower rolodex than Whites. Fewer contacts mean fewer job opportunities.

Whose employment situation has improved?

The number of long term unemployed remained level at 4.8 million people who have been unemployed for 37 weeks or more. To be sure, this is a drop from the 39 weeks of a year or so ago. Still, the situation for some of the unemployed has simply not improved. One of the reasons that the unemployment rate dropped is because 130,000 people dropped out of the labor force because they could not find jobs.

Eight million people work part-time for economic reasons. They would take full time work if only they could find it. The number of “marginally attached” workers stands at 2.4 million. If underutilized workers are included, the unemployment rate is 14.3 percent for everyone. If the relationship between underutilization and reported unemployment is the same for African Americans as for Whites, then the real unemployment rate is 25.5 percent, or almost a fourth, for African Americans. That’s alarming, yet as I watch televised reports on Black unemployment rates, this is unmentioned.

Black unemployment rates are at more than Depression levels, which ought to be completely unacceptable. It is not. Yet few are paying attention to the plight of the unemployed, underemployed, or out of the labor force Black worker. The White House and others love to talk about all of us being in the same boat. Yet some are hanging onto the board by their fingernails, and others are drowning. And some are struggling to row. Others are riding relatively smoothly through this recession, watching their situation improve.

CEA Chairman Krueger says the data from this employment report suggests that we are well on our way to economic recovery. From my perspective this recovery is neither robust nor inclusive. In order for this recovery to be fully celebrated, every sector of Americans should see their material conditions increase. They’ve increased for some. What about the others? Where are their advocates?

Too many African American leaders are asleep at the wheel when it comes to the employment situation. Unemployment rates become a line in their speeches, not a lode for their leadership. High unemployment rates explain why so many African Americans, at the economic margins, don’t support civil rights organizations. They are asking what’s in it for me.

What if huge numbers of unemployed people were mobilized? What if, in their economic misery, some rose up and demanded that Congress and others pay attention to their situation? To watch the situation of Whites improve, while Black unemployment rates remain the same, suggests that the vision of a post-racial society is extremely unrealistic. African American people are bearing a disproportion amount of pain in the current employment situation. Black people are starving, and it seems that no one, not even civil rights advocates, will act on their behalf.

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

Page 14 of 26

Quantcast