A+ R A-

Julianne Malveaux

The Season to be Careful

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Okay, I’ll admit it. I am truly the Grinch who wanted to steal Christmas. It takes me until about December 23 to get in the spirit, and I only feel obligated to find gifts for children and close family. I like to give, which is why I share with a few charities that are close to me. I like to connect, which is why I have a greeting card ritual. But all this crazy frenzy after Thanksgiving, before Christmas sale stuff truly repels me. And while I don’t want to put a damper on anybody’s sprit, I want to say that this is the season to be careful.

After all, we live in a consumer-oriented society. When we spend, other people get paid. When we spend other people are blessed. But if you spend what you don’t have then you are sliding down your own fiscal cliff, and you won’t have a pillow to protect you. The average American will spend about $900 this year on Christmas gifts and toys, but that means that half will spend more. ‘Tis the season to be careful.

Some of the biggest scams come from charities. They will reach you through email, snail mail, and even text mail. They may ask for a little or a lot. You’ve got to ask where your money is going. Some organizations take as much as 80 percent of your gift, which means that the people you want to help get just 20 percent of your money. Before you send a penny, ask the right questions. Too many charities lean on this time of year to make their money, but if the whole truth is told, they are really leaning on this time of year to make a living. Check these folks out online, and look for their annual reports. If their overhead is more than 15 percent, walk on by.

Another scam is the garbled name scam. You may think you are giving to a worthy program, such as the Police Athletic League, only to find that you are giving to the non-registered Police Athletic Program. You may think you are giving to an African American cause, only to find that a garbled name takes you someplace else. Americans want to give, and African Americans are among the most generous, based on the percent of income we give. But give with your head and not with your heart, and ask solicitors important questions.

One of the other scams is the sale scam. If you buy it now, you will get a sale that will never, ever, in your lifetime be replicated. So standing line all night for the 52-foot TV for $239, while the store has only 10. Find some furniture you like only to be told it is 50 percent off today, but not tomorrow. Retailers are playing on your greed and your panic. If you take your time, you might find an even better deal. And if seems too good to be true, it is.

Scruffy little children will come to your door this time of year, asking for money for their church, for magazine subscriptions, for all form of causes. You may want to slip the child a few pennies, but please know they aren’t going to make more than that with the magazine subscription scam, or with the church solicitation. In fact, most churches run their own solicitations, so maybe ask for the name of the church and call them before you make a donation.

I suppose I am the Grinch because I am dismayed that our holiday season that supposedly celebrates the birth of the Christ child has turned into a commercial orgy with people shopping for a full five weeks. It has also turned into a solicitation orgy with almost every organization you have ever known asking for end of year contribution. In the middle of all this drama, the purpose of the holiday is swallowed.

I am weary of seeing frenzied faces anxious for the next sale, or children (and grown folks) defining their worth by what goodies they pick up. I am weary of the folks who go into crazy debt to prove a point, to buy affection, to shower folks with gifts when they should shower them with love. Can we be careful with our wallets and open with our hearts?

I hope that we will all remember and embrace the meaning of Christmas and not the crassness of consumerism.

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

Not all Public Policy is Created Equal

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Discussions of the fiscal cliff also include discussions about ways to change Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to save money. One of the proposals is to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70. After all, some argue, there is nothing magic about 65 or 67, so why not push the rate up to 70?

The difference is the kind of work we do. I can’t imagine that I will ever stop talking and writing, advanced age notwithstanding. However, someone who is waiting tables, working in a nursing home, or doing private household work might not want, but need, to slow it down after 65, or maybe even earlier. Some people take their Social Security earlier, although they are lower, at age 62. Tired, and with sometimes broken bodies, they’d rather take less money than keep working. Consider the construction worker who has not moved up into management. Will he (or in 10 percent of cases, she) still want to wield a hammer, climb onto roofs, or do other heavy work? Raising the Social Security retirement age hurts these people.

These folk are also hurt because their life expectancy is also lower. People with less education have shorter life expectancies than those who are more highly educated. African Americans have lower life expectancy rates than Whites, (although this gap is closing. Thus, people who have paid into the system, but they will get less out of when they live shorter lives. Again, those at the bottom are disadvantaged by public policy that seems race and class neutral.

Why the gap in life expectancy? Part has to do with higher rates of smoking among less educated (which propels obesity), and the lack of health insurance, especially among those with lower incomes and less education. Obamacare partly solves the insurance problems, but those living in an unreal time warp seem to think Mitt Romney won the election and they are acting accordingly by attempting to repeal health care reform.

Most of us got the memo about the dangers of smoking, but women who lack a high school diploma are more likely than others to smoke. Indeed, among women the levels of smoking have risen, while smoking rates had declined among men. Researchers who study these issues suggest that women are smoking more because of the many pressures women face, including being part of the “sandwich generation” juggling both elder care and child care. I was talking to an elder whose smoking habit spans more than 50 years, and when we talked about the issue, she responded that she was over 70, still living, and wasn’t about to change. We talked a bit about stress and ways that smoking is a tension-tamer for her. I suggested she try yoga, and she just about laughed me out of the room.

The health insurance gap between those who are highly educated and less well educated is growing. Among working age adults without a high school diploma, 43 percent have no health insurance, up from 35 percent a decade ago. On the other hand, only 10 percent of those with a college education lacked health insurance.

While Americans do not like to talk about class, poor and working class people do less well in our society than others. For example, attempting to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood has a greater impact on poor women without health insurance than others whose contraceptive needs are covered by their insurance. Yet the right wing attempts to characterize Planned Parenthood as an abortion center, not a place that offers education on contraception, breast cancer, and other health issues.

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealth certainly has a disproportionate impact on the poor and working class, but there are hidden attacks on the poorest in our nation. Raising the Social Security retirement age, eliminating Planned Parenthood, and attacking Obamacare are all implicit attacks on the poor. The class status of our federal elected officials (with median wealth of more than $750,000 excluding the value of their home, compared to just $20,000 for the average person) suggests that Congress just doesn’t get it. But we elect these people. What does that say about us?

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

The Scam that Stole Thanksgiving

E-mail Print PDF

(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

E-mail Print PDF

(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

E-mail Print PDF

(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.

Page 20 of 28

BVN National News Wire