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Julianne Malveaux

The Scam that Stole Thanksgiving

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(NNPA) When I think of Thanksgiving Day, I think of family, gathered around a table that groans with turkey and dressing, green beans and candied yams, mac and cheese or whipped potatoes, and lots of other goodies. I look forward to seeing folks I haven’t seen in a while, savor the food and fellowship, bring in the late evening over coffee and pie. Nobody is rushing out to go shopping – most people save that for the Friday after Thanksgiving, often called, Black Friday, because many stores find themselves in the black after the profligate shopping that day.

There have been tragedies associated with Black Friday. A few years back, a Walmart employee was trampled to death by a crowd way too eager to get to the consumer goods. There have also been altercations, bruises, and cuts as customers have vied for some of the scarce goods available or for crazy deals (often only for the first 200 people). Lines often snake around stores as people wait for a chance for a bargain.

Now Walmart has upped the ante. Last year, they opened at 10 p.m. and this year they will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Just when folks settle down from their meal and start swapping lies, someone is going to have to get up and rush to work so they can serve those consumers who want to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

Many of those who will work do so out of desperation. Many Walmart employees don’t have a full 40-hour shift; some find their hours adjusted each week. Thanksgiving work will augment scarce incomes. Just this week, I talked with a couple whose joint income at Walmart is $26,000 a year, partly because neither has a full week’s schedule.

There are those who ask, “Well, why do they work there?” as if there are easy alternatives. But Walmart is one of our nation’s largest employers, and they often set the tone for similar stores such as Best Buy, Sears and others. With Walmart opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, their competitors will follow because they don’t want to lose momentum to Walmart.

This is why some Walmart employees are protesting the way that Walmart treats its employees. They want to inform the public of illegal actions that Walmart has taken against its employees, and have initiated a series of protests, including strikes, rallies, an online campaign, and other actions. Their organization, Making Change at Walmart, says that Walmart can help revive our economy if they will simply offer workers full-week schedules and fair pay.

Barbara Ehrenreich captured the ways that people are forced to work at a store very much like Walmart in her book, Nickeled and Dimed. She wrote about the workers who were forced to work “off the clock,” after they had punched out, or before they punched in. She wrote about the low pay. And she wrote about those supervisors who had made a deal with the devil – implementing unfair policies for their own survival.

When Walmart employees speak out there is retaliation. They are fired, or their hours are cut back. They very swiftly get the message that speaking out will be punished. Too many silently seethe at unfair policies; too dependent on the little pay they get to raise their voices.

This is why the Making Change at Walmart campaign is so important. It challenges the notion that economic growth is dependent on the exploitation of workers, and suggests, instead, that paying people a living wage is a way to grow a stable and secure workforce.

Walmart is not the only company that prefers to pay its workers on a part-time basis. Many fast-food operations do the same thing, varying hours each week so that workers have no way of knowing when they will work. This means they have difficulty arranging for childcare with these variable hours. Of course, that this does not concern their employers. They are more interested in their bottom line, profits.

Many who are aware of the labor exploitation at Walmart say that their prices and deals are unbeatable, and with their money tight they have no choice but to seek the best bargains they can find. Yet the price of the great deals is exploitation of another worker.

The action to inform Walmart customers about Walmart’s unfair pay and illegal actions allows people who shop on Thanksgiving Day and on other days to make informed decisions about their shopping. One of the ways consumers can make a statement is to stay home on Thanksgiving Day, enjoying family, giving thanks, and postponing shopping.

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 Post-Election Mobilization Agenda

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(NNPA) After we savor the feeling of sweet success that comes from President Barack Obama’s election, there is work to do. Most of us got the outcome that we both worked and hoped for, but we have to resist the temptation to exhale and get on with our work. Before the president takes the oath of office for a second time, African Americans should mobilize around these issues:

1. SEQUESTRATION. Unless the Democrats and Republicans can cut a deal during the lame-duck session of Congress, our budget will be cut automatically. While House Speaker John Boehner has softened his tone just a bit and indicated his willingness to compromise, he still has to herd his Tea Party colleagues into also agreeing on ways to avoid sequestration. The notion of cutting expenditures at a time of slow economic growth makes no sense. Neither does sequestration, a desperate move to avoid a compromise. What do we need to address the deficit? A long-term plan that takes economic cycles into account.

2. POVERTY. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West spent much of this fall on a poverty tour, rising up the 27 percent of African Americans who live in poverty. This contrasts with the Middle Class Tax Force that President Obama has asked Vice President Biden to lead. It would be great if the president would form a task force to reduce or eradicate poverty, and he might do so if he were urged to. Meanwhile, as the holidays approach, keep the poor in your community in mind, and find a local charity to sponsor.

3. STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS. Presidential elections seem to suck all of the air out of the political landscape, and rightly so. We elect a president only every four years, and his (maybe one day her) focus have long-term implications. But so do city council, school board and mayoral elections. Many are held in off years so that local candidates don’t get swallowed in the national hype. It’s a great time to get involved in these elections or even consider running yourself. Voting is literally the least you can do, not the most you can do. Failing to engage in full civic participation cedes your choices to others who are engaged.

4. THE HOUSING CRISIS. Despite action at the national level, many banks are dragging their feet rather than offering modifications for under water mortgages. Just a fraction of those who qualify for these mortgages have been offered them by their banks. Congress probably can’t deal with this issue during a lame duck session, but it is certainly time for people to get together to reverse this trend. The problem: Too many of us are ashamed to talk about our financial status, thinking it’s a personal problem instead of a structural problem. The solution: Consider involving a state legislator or local leader in developing a workshop for those who are under water. Get bankers there to explain why so many have not been offered loan mortifications. Take the results to your congressperson and ask them to act on it.

5. PARENT PLUS LOANS AND OTHER HIGHER EDUCATION ISSUES. While the federal government provides an opportunity for students to have parents borrow for their tuition, the federal government has tightened requirements on the loan to the point that nearly half of those who qualified last year do not qualify any more. The result? Thousands of student, especially at HBCUs have the choice to pay up or get out. Or, the other choice is for colleges to “carry” these students. This is a bad idea when regulators judge colleges, especially historically Black colleges, by fiscal stability.

Speaking of education, this is a challenging time for HBCUs to experience cuts in Title III and other federally-sponsored programs. In a second Obama term, issues affecting HBCUs should be high on the list of things our president must pay attention to.

6. THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY. African Americans have been President Obama’s most loyal supporters. When will we get the attention we deserve? We can’t meekly ask for it, we have to demand it. With high Black unemployment rates, challenged inner city employment possibilities, and high dropout rates, our community is in desperate need of attention. The location of one federally funded new state-of-the-art high school, with both honors programs and job-training programs, can make a real difference in inner cities.

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 Still Needs to be Addressed

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(NNPA) The problem with having a deadline at the end of the week, is that you miss the opportunity to weigh in on things, such as an election, that happens on a Tuesday. It is almost torture when you consider the possibilities face us on November 7 and beyond. I am hoping that President Obama can pull it off, but I am cognizant of the numbers that suggest that Willard is nipping at his heels. No matter what happens, there are real issues that must be faced not only in the next few weeks, but also in the next few years.

The unemployment rate report that was released last Friday was good news for President Obama. The unemployment rate ticked up just a tiny bit, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent. It stayed below the magic number of 8 percent, which is a boost for the president. Behind the good news, though, there are issues of concern. For example the African American unemployment rate rose significantly from 13.4 to 14.3 percent. Black women took most of the hit, with unemployment rates rising from 10.9 to 12.4 percent. Meanwhile, Black male unemployment dropped from 14.2 to 14.1 percent.

There’s more. More than 5 million people have been officially unemployed for more than half a year. They have been looking for work for an average of 41 weeks. I cannot imagine the pain and misery that is reflected in such a long job search. One wonders how many of these folks have left the labor market because they have become discouraged. At the same time, the data shows that more than 600,000 people returned to the labor force as a result of recent trends.

The most discouraging data comes from hidden unemployment and other measures of unemployment. The 7.8 percent overall rate of unemployment is reported as 14.6 percent. Thus, the Black unemployment rate of 14.3 percent translates to an overall Black unemployment rate of 26.4 percent. That means more than one in four African Americans is unemployed. In some urban areas, as many as half of the African American male population does not work.

When President Obama wins this election, African American activists, especially those who have access, must remind our president of this data. They must suggest that there is a coordinated and comprehensive response to the disproportionate exclusion of African Americans in our economy. In the unlikely scenario that Romney is elected, it will be a signal for African American people to figure out how to develop an economic model that does not depend on government (not a bad idea in any case). Then make the new administration understand that they are not only the leaders of conservatives, but also leaders of our entire nation.

When African Americans are marginalized in the labor market, the whole of our nation suffers. Any unused human capital is a drain on our economy and society. Whether Gov. Romney or President Obama is the victor on November 6, the brain drain that is a result of high unemployment rates will not be staunched until there is focused attention on Romney’s 47 percent. Investments in education are threatened by the Ryan budget, but following the Ryan budget is much like eating our seed corn instead of plating it for the next generation. The focus on education improvements in China and India are really a focus on the failure of our nation to fully invest in higher education, especially for those who are underrepresented.

Our nation’s situation is not simply about an election, but about a matter of direction. Too many of us think that voting is the most we can do, not the least we can do. Too many of us have eschewed the role of community agitator and activist. Way too many of us feel that professional success and community involvement are mutually exclusive. Too many of us fail to understand that our personal success germinates from community activity.

The unemployment rate data is a monthly reminder of the State of Black America. If we are unsatisfied with the facts, what will we do to change them?

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

Budget Woes Await Winner of Presidential Election

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(NNPA) No matter who wins the November 6 election, he will have a mess on his hands. The Budget Control Act of 2011 will cut $109 billion from the federal budget in 2013 unless Congress is able to figure out how to either reduce the deficit or cut another deal. The cuts will range from 7 to 9 percent, and they’ll hit everything – Pell Grants, housing, employment services, and defense.

Already, some government contractors are cutting back in anticipation of what is called sequestration and some politicians are saying that our national defense will be “hallowed” by the process. While Mitt Romney talks about getting more ships for the Navy, the fact is that all of us will have to do with less if Congress cannot see its way out of this mess.

The deficit reduction sequester – a result of the failure to enact legislation that reduces the budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years – is scheduled to begin in January. It will affect all non-exempt federal programs, with equal savings coming from defense spending and from non-defense spending, according to the House Budget Committee.

Congress pushed itself into sequestration in 2011 when our nation’s credit rating slipped because our leaders failed to pass a budget. In a showdown with President Obama, Congress stepped all the way out on the cliff that we are now poised to fall off. Rather than making reasoned decisions about cuts, the notion of something automatic was supposed to scare everyone into sanity. The last year, however, has reminded us that few who make public policy are sane.

Most economists are clear that cutting spending during a recession or its weak recovery makes no sense. Deficit notwithstanding, taking money out of the economy is a prescription for disaster. We have only just climbed out of a recession, but recovery is not assured. We face the possibility of a double dip recession by withdrawing money from the economy.

One of the biggest challenges in avoiding the sequester is the fact that the Congress that will convene to attempt to make a deal in a lame-duck Congress. Some will lose their jobs as of January, but they still have the opportunity to pass laws between November and January. They have nothing to lose by continuing their obduracy, and they have few incentives to compromise, something they haven’t done before.

Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, especially on the wealthy, which is one way to avoid the sequestration trap. Democrats don’t want to cut vital social programs. That simplifies matters just a bit, but the bottom line is we get more money either by increasing taxes or cutting programs. We can’t increase taxes on the already beleaguered middle class, and the poor don’t have a penny to spare. That leaves the wealthy, but they are the sacred cows of the Republican Party. Cutting social programs hurts those who have already been hurt. Congress has a dilemma.

One of the things we know about sequestration is that it will cost jobs, both in the federal government and in companies that contract with the federal government. Our extremely weak recovery, which leaves us with an official unemployment rate slightly less than 8 percent, cannot sustain more job losses. Our Congress, with a median wealth of $750,000, excluding the value of their homes, cannot fathom the lives of ordinary human beings. These are people who get up in the morning, pour cereal in a bowl, take a fast crack at the newspaper before hopping a subway or bus on the way to work, put in their hours, often more than eight, and then take the subway or bus back home. Many make a pit stop at a day care center or school, and then rush home to put food on the table. With median wealth of about $20,000, including home ownership, their lives are a far cry from those of their elected representatives. The gap, perhaps, explains why the American Jobs Act has not yet been passed after languishing in Congress for nearly a year.

Sequestration has come up only tangentially in the presidential debates. Yet it is one of the most important immediate issues that our nation faces. Across the board cuts hit more heavily at the bottom than at the top, and those who are already suffering will find themselves suffering more. It would have been great to have one of the debates focused specifically on this issue of sequestration. The way this sequestration is implemented is likely to depend on the outcome of the election. Yet both candidates have been mostly silent on this matter.

What happens after November 6? Whether President Obama or Willard Romney wins, hard choices will have to be made.

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

What you Talking 'bout Willard?

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Julianne Malveaux(NNPA) Halfway through the second presidential debate, I remembered the show where Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges played Arnold and Willis Jackson. Little Arnold was always asking, “What you talking ’bout Willis?” My question, exactly, only this time directed toward Republican nominee Willard Mitt Romney. What in the world was he talking about when he attempted to debate President Obama on October 16?

The Republican nominee behaved as if he were on some kind of upper. Some may have thought his delivery was firm, but when he raised his voice and asked President Obama the same questions several times (Have you checked your pension? Will you answer my question? Well then how much oil production did you cut?). He came off as more obnoxious (or chemically enhanced) than forceful. Because President Obama is a world leader, he could not give the ‘hood response which might have been “shut your mouth up” (or some such related rejoinder). Instead, he responded with dignity and clarity.

Romney is flip-flopping more frequently than a pancake on an IHOP grill. So he can’t make up his mind about his tax plan, women’s equality, coal production, or anything. He says he has a five-point plan, but really it is a one- point plan, “Trust me.” Why should anybody trust him when he can’t say whether he will cut the mortgage deduction, the charitable contributions deduction, or college credits? He says he will have to think about it. What has he been doing for the past 10 years when he was running for president? Clearly not thinking! If it takes him this long to think through his policy, maybe he could join (or with his money, even start) a think tank for the cognitively impaired!

What you talking ‘bout Willard? You don’t yet know whether you can support the Lily Ledbetter Act, the first piece of legislation that President Obama signed upon taking office. You have yet to figure out women’s equality. You forgot that you stood outside a coal plant in Massachusetts and talked about pollution. You are not sure about the tax breaks you took at Bain when you were exporting jobs. Moreover, you connect gasoline prices to President Obama’s policies, not to the greater factor of world demand. Surely, you know better than that. You are running away from your position faster than a gold medal-winning sprinter at the Olympics.

Maybe Willard Mitt Romney knows no better. This may be why he substituted raw aggression for actual facts. He disrespected both moderator Candy Crowley and President Obama, but then when you wear the mantle of the entitled white male, I think you think you can disrespect and insult anyone. Some of the spinmeisters are out calling this a “draw” or saying that President Obama was “too aggressive.” That means that when a Black man makes a point, he is aggressive, but when a privileged and entitled White man just about beats on his chest, hollers, ignores directions, and does a spot-on imitation of Homie the Clown on steroids (sorry, Homie, for the insult), he is being firm. Were the spinmeisters and I watching the same debate? Or were their biases showing?

In the second debate, some say the gender gap closed and as many women favored Romney over President Obama. That implied disturbing things about some women. My mamma used to ask me why good girls liked bad boys. I don’t remember my answer, but back in the day I could find a bad boy faster than a penny in my pocket. If women tipped for Romney after that first debate, they were saying they liked their men loud, rude, and crude. Let’s see where the gender gap goes the aftermath of the second debate, where Obama put his foot down with dignity and class, while Romney ranted as if he were out of control.

What you talking ‘bout, Willard? You distorted the facts so badly about Libya that moderator Candy Crowley had to jump in and correct you. Your “I have to think about that” platform was pure comedy. Your flipping and flopping suggested that you will say anything to get elected, and rose questions about what you will do after you are elected. What you talking ‘bout Willard? Not much!

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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