By Larry Miller, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –
While Republican and Democratic lawmakers inched their way through raising the nation’s debt ceiling - a seemingly never-ending series of arguments, which proved to be a last minute cliff-hanger - the numbers of the nation’s poor and unemployed also rose.
And those numbers show African Americans are bearing the brunt of the country’s financial woes. Basically, even as there are signs of economic recovery, the financial divide between Black and white is widening – sentiments that were loudly and vehemently expressed during a recent rally in Chicago by Tavis Smiley, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Dr. Cornel West.
The three sharply criticized President Barack Obama on his handling of the nation’s economic crisis and what they perceive as his lack of action for America’s poor during a rally in Chicago – the first stop on the three leaders’ 16 city Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience.
“President Obama should acknowledge the poor and come back home to his base, even if it means being a one-term president,” said Farrakhan, in a published report.
According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment figures for the nation are at 9.1 percent. Those numbers for African American are 15.9 percent – figures that are double the 8.1 percent for white Americans.
The latest research by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that more than 4.2 million Americans have been unemployed for a year or longer – the highest numbers since the Second World War – figures that reflect the total population of the state of Kentucky. Another report from the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative for last April revealed even as the economy has shown signs of recovery, unemployment has risen.
Research by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that while long term unemployment is hitting all Americans of every age, older workers are the most likely segment of the population to be out of work longest. The report indicated more than 40 percent of unemployed age 55 or older have been out of work for a year or longer.
“The number of Americans who have been out of work for a year or longer is roughly equal to the population of Connecticut,” said Ingrid Schroeder, project director of the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, which produced the report, in a press release. “Their unemployment has a significant impact on their families, their communities, and our government’s bottom line.”
And while the numbers of America’s unemployed rises, poverty rates are not far behind. A recent snapshot of the poverty rate in Philadelphia revealed 25 percent of the city’s residents are living in poverty.
The economic report released by the City Controller’s office for September 2010 shows nationally the country’s poverty rate has risen to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million Americans – the highest figures in 15 years.
“Right now the figures stand at 25 percent,” said Harvey Rice, spokesman for the Philadelphia Controller’s Office. That rate of 25 percent pushes Philadelphia well above other cities in the United States. In 2000 the city’s poverty rate was at 15.2 percent. “We’re going to look at the figures again this September, but right now nothing has changed that we know of.”
What is the federal government going to do about turning these figures around? That question takes on new significance with impending spending cuts in the 2012 budget.
West has characterized Obama as the “Black mascot of Wall Street Oligarchs” and Smiley has said the president has forgotten the poor. But the White House has responded to these sentiments by saying that Obama is focused on those suffering because of the weakened economy every day.
“Every economic measure that he has proposed and every one that has become law because of his leadership has been geared towards helping those folks who are in the greatest distress because of the recession that we were in, the great recession, worst since the Great Depression, and those who are struggling as we emerge from it,” said Obama Administration spokesman Jay Carney during a White House press briefing.
“His focus on the most vulnerable communities was evidenced when he negotiated with congressional leaders late last year on the tax cut extension deal by insisting that, in addition to the payroll tax cut that he insisted be in it so that every American family – working American family would have on average an extra thousand dollars this year, he insisted on an extension of the earned income tax credit, an extension of the child tax credit, which disproportionately helps those who are disproportionately in need. It is why he insisted in the recent debt ceiling deal that Pell Grant funding be protected because those who deserve and qualify for quality higher education but are struggling to be able to pay for it because of their economic circumstances need the assistance that those Pell grants supply. So this President is very focused on every American who is suffering during these turbulent economic times, and the policies that he’s espoused and that he’s pushed take into account very seriously those who are most affected.”