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Julianne Malveaux

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.

Black Women and Organizations

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(NNPA) During Black History Month, the focus is often on individuals. The founder of the month (once Negro History Week) was Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and he chose the week that encompassed both the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. When other luminaries are mentioned, they are mostly men, but this year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has declared that women will anchor the month. It is great to lift up the many black women luminaries, including Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, Elizabeth Keckley, Cathy Hughes, and so many others.

Yet the real untold story of Black History Month is the story of the organizations that have made a real difference in the advancement of African American people. The NAACP, founded in 1909, and the National Urban League, founded in xxx are the most visible organizations, but in 1935 both the National Council of Negro Women (led by Dr. Height from 1957 to her death in 2010) and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs were founded. Even earlier, in 1896, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs was established. Mary Church Terrell was the organization’s first president and this group, still operating, is the oldest organization that works for the benefit of black women and families.

Until 1960, most African American women worked as maids, domestics, or private household workers. The National Domestic Workers Union was founded in 1968 by Dorothy Lee Bolden, who started working at age 12 for about $1.50 a week. The organization was dedicated to professionalize domestic work, providing training and advocating for fair working conditions. This was yet another example of African American women coming together to improve their lives and those of their families.

There is a rich history of African American sororities and fraternities. Among the sororities, Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded at Howard University in 1908. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated was also founded at Howard in 1913 by women who broke off from AKA to emphasize their commitment to scholarship, service, and sisterhood. Delta women marched in the Women’s Suffrage March in 1913, despite discouragement from white women who did not want to mix race matters with suffrage issues. (Full disclosure – I’m a Delta). Two other black women’s sororities, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho, are organizations that also focus on service. All of the black women’s sororities are committed to uplifting the community and to providing scholarship assistance to students.

In so many ways, the history of organization is a tribute to the human spirit that transcends stories of individual accomplishment. Organizational development reminds of the ways and the reasons that people come together for uplift and for good, to improve lives, to pay it forward, to pass good things on. Black history month is often the story of accomplished individuals but the story of organizations is equally compelling. As a nation and a world, we are better off for the efforts of the National Council of negro Women, now led by Dr. Avis Jones DeWeever, for Delta Sigma Theta, led by Cynthia M. A. Butler-McIntyre, by the Children’s Defense Fund, led by Marian Wright Edelman, and by the National Mentoring Cares Movement, led by former Essence editor Susan Taylor. As we cheer on individuals, we must also cheer on the enduring legacy of organization founded and led by African American women.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.

Who Gets Food Stamps?

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(NNPA) Newt Gingrich is playing racial politics and he is playing to win. First he says that black children should get jobs as janitors (why not suggest they get the same consulting contract he did at Freddie Mac – I’m with Mitt Romney here, what did Gingrich tell Freddie Mac that was worth more than a million dollars). Then he says that he wants to tell the NAACP that we should demand jobs, not food stamps. He so bristles at Fox commentator Juan Williams that he gets a standing O in South Carolina. And he has repeatedly described President Barack Obama as a “food stamp” President. It’s race baiting, pure and simple, and few have called him on it.

The true food stamp story goes something like this. In 2006 just 26.5 million Americans received food stamps. By 2011 the number had spiked to more than 45 million people. This has been the result of the Great Recession that has left at least 13 million people officially unemployed for an average of 40 weeks. Those are the official numbers, but they may be twice as high when we consider the people who have part time work and want full time work and those who have dropped out of the labor market because it costs too much to look for work. President Obama is not a food stamps president; he is a president who inherited an economic crisis. Newt is being extremely disingenuous and extraordinarily racist in his food stamps rap.

While about 14 percent of all of us – one in seven – gets food stamps, in some states the number is as high as one in five. In South Carolina, for example, poverty is greater than it is in the nation and 18.2 percent of South Carolinians get food stamps. The number in Maine is 18.6 percent, in Louisiana 19.2 percent, in Michigan 19.7 percent, in Oregon 20.1 percent, and in Mississippi 20.7 percent. Given the racial dynamics in South Carolina, did Newt decide to show out in a state where there is more poverty than elsewhere, and when the racial resentments (remember I said Confederate flag waving) don’t need much fuel to turn to fire. He got a standing O by pandering to racial stereotypes. And that pandering may well have propelled him into victory.

Newt has managed to paint food stamps as a black program, partly by describing our president as a “food stamps” president, and partly by putting food stamps in context with the NAACP. But Mr. Gingrich, often touted for his intelligence, must be bright enough to know that most food stamp recipients are not African American. Indeed, according to the Associated Press, 49 percent of food stamp recipients are white, 26 percent are African American, and 20 percent are Hispanic. Indeed, some of the folks who gave Newt a standing O are food stamp recipients, but they chose to bond with Newt’s racially coded messages instead of their own economic reality.

Poverty has a different face than it has ever had before. People who used to have big jobs and fancy cars are now struggling to make ends meet. People who always struggled are now strangling. More than 2 million families have doubled up in the past year because they needed a family lifeline to save their lives and their worlds. More than 40 percent of African American children live in poverty. Newt Gingrich would blame the poor for their situation, but the economy that President Obama inherited is an economy that has thrust people into despair. Food stamps are a lifeline for many. How dare candidate Gringrich attack President Obama for providing relief to 45 million Americans!

Most food stamp recipients are people who used to work, and they would, frankly, rather be working than receiving assistance. But they have downsized their lifestyles, their dreams, and their expectations. They are waiting for the job market to roar back. Half of the 45 million are white, and some of them stood to applaud Gingrich. Do they really think that a man who disdains the poor will provide them with a lifeline? Do they really believe that a man who is selling wolf tickets to the NAACP is really concerned with the well being of the least and the left out. The poverty that too many Americans experience is repugnant. The extent to which politicians trivialize such poverty is character revealing. Who will put American back to work? Who will alleviate poverty?

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.

African Americans Lose, White Others Gain

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(NNPA) The unemployment rate is falling for the third month in a row, and in December about 200,000 private sector jobs were created. The monthly unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that unemployment has declined by six tenths of a percentage point since August. Already, some economists are saying we can expect another decline next month.

I am surprised, however, at the very tepid language that the Employment Situation report uses to describe the increase in African American unemployment. A rise of .3 percent among African Americans, the second rise in as many months, is described as having “changed little”. It has changed enough so that while some are celebrating gains, African Americans are losing. Indeed, the African American unemployment rate increased from 15.5 to 15.8 percent.

Black women, it turns out, are losing more than most. While the unemployment rate for adult African American women, at 13.9 percent, is still lower than the male rate of 15.7 percent, African American men gained jobs this year, while African American women lost them. Why? Nearly one in four (23%) African American women works for government, and federal, state, and local governments are releasing workers, not hiring them. And while some governments will attempt to get the economy moving by creating construction and redevelopment opportunities for men, teachers, nurses and social workers, mostly women, are walking on eggshells in fear of job losses. Even when we know that smaller classroom size gives a better yield in terms of educational results, school districts are being forced to shoehorn another student or two into already-crowded classrooms because of cost issues.

The data that comes from the Employment Situation report is, probably much lower than the reality of African American unemployment. When we include those marginally attached to the labor force (stopped looking, etc.), as well as those part time workers that want full time work, the unemployment rate for the total population is not 8.5 percent, but 15.2 percent. And the estimate of the African American unemployment rate would be not 15.8 percent, but a whopping 28.3 percent. More facts – though the number of officially unemployed people is dropping, it is still high enough with 13.1 million actively looking for word and not finding it. And the average person has been out of work for 40.8 weeks, six weeks longer than a year ago. The headlines blaze optimism, the reality is different.

Add to this a recent report that says that the wealth gap between Congress and their constituents is growing. In 1984, the average member of Congress had wealth of $280,000, excluding home equity. In the twenty years since 1984, Congressional wealth grew by two and a half times, to $725,000. Again, this doesn’t include home equity. In contrast, the median wealth of an American family actually dropped slightly to around $20,500, again, not including home equity. It is very likely that when home equity is added, the gap is even larger.

This wealth gap perhaps explains why Congressional representatives are more interested in tax cuts than in creating jobs. It explains, perhaps, why Republicans so resisted President Obama’s plan to extend the Social Security tax cut and also to extend unemployment rate insurance. Congress is operating in their own self-interest, they aren’t thinking about their jobless and economically challenged constituents.

If these members of Congress got calls from bill collectors, lived with less money than month, had to deny their children a new pair of shoes or an after-school trip because of dollars, or actually had to visit a grocery store on a budget, they might have not so hesitated before they eventually capitulated to President Obama’s determination. Still the growing wealth gap perhaps explains why so few are alarmed at some of the unemployment rate data.

To be sure, it is exciting to see unemployment rates drop, even slightly. It suggests that some of the Obama policies are working. But someone has to explain why these policies aren’t working for African Americans, especially for African American women. If this trend continues, the Obama Administration will have to consider targeting some relief to those who aren’t benefitting from the unemployment downturn. Some analysts, myself included, have been advocating programs targeted toward the inner city, toward service employment, toward unemployed youth, for quite some time. The unemployment rate gap, the fact that there are clear winners, and also clear losers in the current changes, make targeted employment programs far more imperative.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

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