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The Entrepreneurial Mindset

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The federal Department of Labor delivered the latest news from the jobs front recently, and it was unrelievedly gloomy.

The unemployment rate from May to June jumped from 6.1 to 6.4 percent as the economy shed another 30,000 jobs to add to the 200,000 lost earlier this year. The number of Americans looking for work but unable to find it rose past 9 million for the first time in a decade.

As worrisome, more than half of the unemployed have been looking for a job for longer than twelve weeks, a twenty-year high. Now, the jobless spend an average of nearly 20 weeks looking for work, a nineteen-year high.

The jobless figures dashed economists’ expectations that the June report would show a lessening of the significant unemployment that’s gripped the country for the last three years. Instead, more Americans, not fewer, are enduring hard times.

However, the most alarming fact of the federal report is that the increase in unemployment was almost completely driven by the rise in Black unemployment. It jumped a full percentage point, from 10.8 percent to 11.8 percent, according to the agency.

By comparison, the jobless rates for adult women (5.2 percent), Whites (5.5 percent), and Hispanic Americans (8.4 percent) were little changed from May. While the number of Whites employed grew, the number of African Americans employed declined.

Thus, here’s more evidence that now that the economic boom years of the 1990s are a fast-fading memory, the inability of African Americans to find work is returning to the “twice-as-great-as-Whites” ratio that plagued Black America for most of the past three decades.

It would be cruel to blithely advise “look for the silver lining” in all this hardship and misery.

But one can soberly, and in fact, urgently warn African Americans—and the nation as a whole—to remember the insight of the great scientist Albert Einstein that in every crisis lies an opportunity.

In the face of this crisis of double-digit unemployment rates, Black America must seize the opportunity to focus its energies even more on gaining economic strength.

I say “even more” because the 1990s made it clear, if it was not before, that Black Americans of all economic classes understand the value of economic self- sufficiency and the value of work and the honor in working.

During that decade, the Black middle class recorded significant gains in income and other measures of economic vitality.

But arguably the Black poor put forth the most significant economic declaration, if you will, of the period. It was their hunger for work which led them to rush to fill the millions of low-wage service jobs the boom created at the bottom of the economic ladder—a “jobs rush” which drove the Black unemployment rate down to an historic low of 7.2 percent in 1999.

It will be no surprise to most that the study of 300 metropolitan areas by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Research which tracked the breadth of that decline also found that levels of reported crime had fallen most sharply in areas where the declines in joblessness among Blacks had been greatest.

That historic decline indicates the potential among African Americans for concentrated “work” on becoming economically self-sufficient isn’t limited to those who are White-collar professionals, or their fortunate younger brethren crowding undergraduate and graduate business schools.

The issue is: how best to develop that potential to its maximum.

That will be a major topic of discussion at the National Urban League’s Annual Conference, to be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from July 26 to July 30. In workshops and other forums, we’ll be examining the steps that can take us further down the path of economic self-sufficiency.
One of those steps is the development of an “entrepreneurial mindset.”

In business terms, as several of our Urban League trustees who have built their own businesses keep reminding me, that means having the creativity to figure how to build the proverbial better mousetrap.
But, equally important, it means having the discipline and the integrity to build something that works and the determination to not be deterred by setbacks.

One of our trustees, Melinda F. Emerson-Heastie, president of Quintessence Entertainment, Inc., a Philadelphia-based entertainment company, puts it succinctly in a forthcoming article in our Opportunity Journal magazine: “It takes a special kind of person to be a successful entrepreneur. Notice I did not say just entrepreneur. Success is a formula in business …”

Her words underscore the obvious: that success is a formula in life, too, and that many of the traits necessary for success in that one sphere are vital for success in many others; and that we need to start inculcating that “formula” in our children as early as possible.

Remembering that should help shield us from the gloom of the latest federal report on joblessness, so that we can see—and seize—the opportunity that’s there as well.

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