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How Will Consumer Confidence Affect Year-end Spending?

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By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

As September draws to a close, the holiday season will soon be upon us. It is also the traditional time when consumer spending surges make the annual difference between retailers reaching profits or red ink. But according to a recent consumer study conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of BankRate.com, many consumers have already begun tightening household budgets.

“Forty percent of Americans say they have cut back on spending over the past 60 days due to the roller-coaster stock market or concerns about the economy”, says Greg McBride, Bankrate’s senior financial analyst. “This type of widespread cutback in consumer spending, if sustained for any length of time, is how recessions are born.”

Beyond consumer spending, the study also compared consumer comfort levels today against those of 12 months ago in four other measures: debt, savings, job security and net worth.

If you’re feeling as if your total assets are fewer than you’d prefer, there are many others holding that same opinion. Across all education levels, consumers said their net worth is lower today than a year ago.

Older Americans ages 50-64 are feeling the most financial stress. Half on this age group are less comfortable today with their savings than last year. They have also the most likely to have already cut back on spending.

Although consumers earning $75,000 or more were found more comfortable with their savings levels, they too are spending less.

When consumers considered their personal debts, over half surveyed– 51 cent – found they were about the same as last year. This finding suggests that while consumer may manage debts, becoming debt-free for half of Americans is long-term goal, not a short one.

Job security was perhaps the worst measure. More than half – 60 percent – job security is as elusive now as it was last year. Conversely, only 16 percent felt their jobs were safer today.

David Denslow, Jr., a distinguished service professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Florida and a research economist for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research offered his interpretation on lingering job insecurity.

“This increased concern ranges from dropouts to college graduates, from the less-skilled to higher earners, from the young to those approaching retirement. And it is remarkable for the beginning of the third year after the official end of a recession. The third years of the previous two recoveries saw rapid job gains. This time may be different.”

In the face of questionable job security, lingering debts, meager savings and lower net worth – the usual merry tone of the holidays may offer less cheer. The economy has taken the form of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Reversing the Alarming HIV Increase Among Black Gay Men, Part 2

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By Rod McCullom, Special to the NNPA from the Black AIDS Institute –

The second of a two-part series examining the high rates of new HIV infection among Black gay and bisexual men. Part 1 described the new data detailing the dramatic increases in new infections, examined some of the reasons driving the numbers and described the CDC's new social-marketing initiative, designed to encourage testing among Black MSM.

In light of the persistent increase in new infections among MSM (men who have sex with men)--and despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new testing initiative--a consensus has emerged among prominent Black gay men who have leadership positions in HIV/AIDS policy, prevention and public health: A larger investment is needed from public and private sources, as well as a more "holistic" approach to Black gay men's sexual health.

"It's a question of dollars," says A. Cornelius Baker, senior policy adviser of the Washington, D.C.-based National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC), which delivered a forceful set of recommendations in response to the CDC's incidence report. Across the federal bureaucracy, "there is not a sufficient investment in line with the scope of the epidemic in Black and Latino gay populations," he says.

"The CDC must increase funding to organizations providing services to young MSM and transgender [people] of color from $9 million to $14 million," says Baker, who is also board chair of the Black AIDS Institute. "Five years after its initial commitment, the numbers are worse, and their investment remains at $9 million. That makes no sense."

Among NBGMAC's additional recommendations: increased funding, capacity building in Black gay organizations, continuing HIV education for medical professionals, high-level consultations with Black gay men and research on how to lower the viral load in MSM communities of color.

Extending Advantages, Reducing Stigma

Other prominent MSM agree with NBGMAC's call for a more comprehensive approach to the multiple health, economic and social disparities that Black MSM experience, particularly those in the under-30 demographic, which is experiencing the greatest increase in new infections.

"I'm 25 years old and part of that 13-to-29 demographic, but many of my contemporaries [do not] have some of my advantages," says Daniel Driffin, a prevention specialist at the Atlanta-based National AIDS & Education Services for Minorities. "I have full-time employment, a college degree and health insurance. Many younger brothas are jobless, homeless, uninsured or have low literacy rates. Some of them [engage in] 'survival sex' to provide for some basic needs. If we begin to tackle those issues, we can influence health-disparity rates."

Kali Lindsey, senior director of federal policy at Harlem United, believes that the outreach to Black MSM should address "not only sexual health but physical and emotional decisions as well that drive our sexual behavior."

He continues: "We also have to stop letting our community off the hook. More than half of our gay men do not disclose same-sex behavior to their primary care physicians. That means that we are missing many opportunities to have key conversations about sexual health. We can't accept that anymore."

"We have to get comfortable discussing sexuality," says Venton Jones, senior program associate for communications for NBGMAC, "in our Facebook discussions, faith settings, with medical providers and in our communities. That is critical for the Black community."

NBGMAC's statement of recommendations also called attention to a study by the National Medical Association that found many of its members--almost exclusively Black doctors--were "not willing to recommend HIV testing because of social stigmas."

"That's shameful," says Baker. "Whatever the discomfort some Black doctors may have in talking about sex, they have to get over it. Our people have been through a helluva lot, from slavery to segregation. And they're uncomfortable talking about sex?"

Baker offers an anecdote from his experience with a pediatrician when he was a teenager. "He said, 'I get the sense that you might like boys; is that okay for me to say?' Then we had a conversation, and he took care of my sexual health. The conversation was loving and respectful. He took his responsibility as an adult and a caretaker [seriously], and guided me on a path to being 50 years old and still alive. Our institutions have to do the same thing. We haven't shown youth that there's a better way to live."

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, the Advocate, ColorLines and other media. McCullom blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.

Bernice King Praises Mother's Devotion to MLK

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Article and Photo By Kenya King, Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World –

Perhaps if it were not for Coretta Scott King, there would be marginal remembrance of Dr. Luther King Jr. today. Elder Bernice King, the youngest of the King children, expounded a reminder of that possibility during her keynote address at the Women Who Dare to Dream event honoring women in the Civil Rights Movement.

The event was part of the King Memorial Dedication week activities in Washington, D.C., in August; the dedication ceremony was postponed because of Hurricane Irene. It has been rescheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16, and President Barack Obama will speak at the dedication.

“Where would the world be without women who have dared to dream and women who have sacrificed and women who have often put their own dreams aside that the dreams that lie in the hearts of men might come to pass,” said King. “The greatness of a man is usually because of the woman who walks by his side. This certainly was the case for Coretta Scott King…and we thank God for her laying the groundwork for this day.”

The defining moment of Mrs. King’s efforts was in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, ensuring that Dr King would always be recognized on every third Monday in January.

King explained that although others discouraged Coretta in her efforts, she never waivered and listened to a ‘higher calling.’

“Many told her, in fact, many men told her, ‘stay home and raise your children and let the men do the job,’ said King. “But ladies, thank God that Coretta Scott King heard another voice. A voice that sounded forth from heaven that said “Coretta King I have called you as Ester for such a time as this. You have come into the Kingdom and so go forth in the power of love. Go forth in the power of strength and low I will be with you until the end of your assignment. And so God stood with Coretta Scott King as she married that banner and championed that cause.”

King also shared the story of when her parent’s home was bombed in 1956. Coretta was home with her first born, Yolanda, and Martin was away speaking at a mass meeting concerning the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

“My father said my mother had an amazing calm about her at that time,” said King. When Coretta’s father, Obadiah Scott, came to get Coretta after the bombing, Coretta refused to go. “My mother looked at my grandfather and said, ‘daddy, I’ve got to stay here with Martin.’”

King’s notable preaching skills illuminated as she described how Coretta’s calm and steadfastness remained even in Dr. King’s death. “When he died, she could have been consumed in her grief,” said King. “She could have been overwhelmed in her grief. In fact, she could have been consumed with bitterness and hatred. But no, this courageous woman, this dignified woman, this determined woman, this committed woman, this called and anointed woman decided that she would continue to champion the legacy and the work of Martin Luther King Jr., as she founded the King Center and told us that we need to study the principles, and the techniques and the philosophy of nonviolence. And so in some vain I say to people that Coretta Scott King is really the one who helped to raise a nation while also raising four kids at the same time. She was an awesome woman.”

King also recognized other women in the movement including Dorothy Cotton, who was a part of Dr. King’s executive staff; Doris Crenshaw, who worked with NAACP and Rosa Parks; and Cleo Orange, wife of the late James Orange, a “master organizer and mobilizer” for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

A rare glimpse into what went on in the inner circles of the women in the Civil Rights Movement came to light as King emphasized how those who followed her father were able to adhere to the principles of nonviolence in the face of racism.

“We had training going on behind the scenes. You see the marches and you see the water hoses. You see the demonstrations, but this was a movement that was filled with discipline and training and teaching and simulation,” said King. “They didn’t just turn another cheek. They were doing it because they had it simulated, embodied and modeled by people who showed them how to turn the other cheek. So we thank God for the women who were teaching and training in the fields and in the churches.”

King drew applause when she spoke of Dr. King’s admission that Coretta taught him many things about civil rights. She said that Dr. King was once asked if he researched Coretta’s background before marrying her and educated her on his philosophies.

“And my father said, well it may have been the other way. I think at many points, she educated me. When I met her she was concerned with the same issues as I was…So I must admit I wish I could say to satisfy my masculine ego that I led her down this path, but I must say we went down this path together. She was as actively involved and concerned when we met as she is now.”

King explained that Coretta, also known for her work in the peace movement, had taken a stance against the Vietnam War well before Dr. King did.

“She was perhaps one of the very few people who stood with him during that very difficult time when people misunderstood his stance against the Vietnam War. Many had turned their backs on him … but Coretta Scott King continued to encourage him and applauded him and said she was waiting for the day when he would take a stance because she knew that his moral voice was needed in the peace movement. And so began a glorious journey toward continuing to rid the nation of what he calls the triple evils of poverty, racism and military.”

In an unmistakable biblical reference to John 12:14, King was not remiss to include a spiritual meaning on how Coretta Scott King had the strength to persevere and why Dr. King’s legacy still lives despite his death.

“They did not understand that unless a seed fall into the ground and die it abides alone but if it dies, it produces much fruit. So today the force that they tried to stop has actually become a stronger force, an unstoppable force.

“You may slay a dreamer, but look around y’all and watch what becomes of his dream. There are those that are carrying and embodying that dream. There are those that are continuing that work, and we will, Daddy, continue this movement. Your life will not be in vain. The blood that you shed will not be for naught. We will carry the banner and will continue on. And as you stand overlooking that Potomac [River]. We know that it symbolizes you standing as you looked over the mountaintop and you saw that promised land,” said King.

King said that her mother believed that in order to save the soul of a nation, one “must become its soul.”

“These words spoken by my mother reminds us of the significance and the importance of women to the contribution of every nation on the face of this earth.”

The Women Who Dare to Dream event, held at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, also included a poetry reading by Dr. Mya Angelou, music by India Arie and others, as well as commentary from numerous women in civil rights including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Xernona Clayton and Christine King Farris.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial officially opened for pubic viewing on Aug. 22, 2011. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation postponed several dedication-week activities in light of inclement weather.

For more information about dedication plans, visit www.dedicatethedream.org.

Job Corps Fights High Unemployment with Free Education

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By Ashley N. Johnson, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

Education and employment are two critical issues, especially within the Black community, where African-American students are ranking lower than their counterparts in education and have the highest unemployment rate nationwide. While many are dropping out and others are struggling to go onto college, the Pittsburgh Job Corps program offers low-income youth an alternative to turning to “street life” to survive.

The Job Corps program, which has served young people ages 16-24 for more than 45 years, is a free education and technical career training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor to low-income, underserved youth. There are currently 124 Job Corps programs nationwide.

“We work very carefully to make sure that (our students are trained) in areas where they can get employment. That is the bottom line for us,” said Molly Taleb, Pittsburgh Job Corps deputy center and career development services director. She added that their job is not completed until students have received training certificates or completed a degree and, most importantly, find a job.

With an 87 percent success rate of students finding employment, going on to four-year colleges or universities, or even enlisting in the military, Job Corps is giving Black youths options. Recently, the Pittsburgh students and staff of Job Corps, along with local officials, held an assembly for National Job Corps Commencement Day, which celebrated student success of graduating from the program. Several students gave testimonies of how making the decision to enroll in Job Corps had changed their lives.

According to Taleb, Job Corps began as a program for inner city boys and has grown to accommodate both males and females and allows participants to receive their diploma or GED; to acquire a vocational trade and receive certification; to get a driver’s license; and the program also sponsors more than 500 students to attend Allegheny County or Butler County Community Colleges.

The Pittsburgh center serves approximately 850 students, with participants being approximately 47 percent African-American, approximately 45 percent White, approximately three percent Hispanic and approximately five percent other ethnicities.

Entrance into the program is based on social economic needs and participants must apply through a recruiter and complete the application process. But with entering the program comes responsibility. Taleb said there is a zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol and fighting. She said these are the same expectations that employers would have.

“Students have to want to be here. It is not a lockdown program,” she said. “If forced then it is not going to work.”

Students in the program receive a stipend, housing and clothing allotments, for things such as uniforms for their vocational courses. The Pittsburgh Job Corps offers studies in several technical careers, but specializes in health care, construction and culinary arts, careers where students are more likely to find employment. And in the Job Corps’ college program, they also sponsor a number of majors where students are most likely to find employment. Taleb said that at Job Corps, they are constantly looking at what students are being trained in and where the jobs are.

Along with training, they also offer their students academic and vocational counselors at each college location, in case students need training or etc.

While many institutions are facing financial cuts due to government budget issues, Taleb’s center is no different. She said that money used for equipment has been frozen, but that budget issues are something they take into account every year. With college and university tuition increasing, Taleb said she has not necessarily seen an increase in enrollment into Job Corps.

Republicans Take New Tact to Curtail Legal Abortion in Virginia

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Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

The Virginia Board of Health passed what were labeled “emergency” regulations Sept. 15 that abortion rights advocates say will effectively shut down the 22 abortion providers in the state.

The rules approved by 12 of the 15 board members will force the clinics to comply with state regulations governing hospitals, if five or more first trimester abortions are performed monthly. The rules also impose architectural design standards that pro-choice advocates say are too costly--and needlessly stringent-- for most clinics to meet.

Under the new rules, clinics must have five-foot-wide hallways, eight-foot wide areas outside procedure rooms, specific numbers of toilets, types of sinks and hospital-like air circulation and electrical wiring. The clinics will also have to provide a parking spot for every bed.

The only dissenting vote came from James Edmondson Jr., an appointee of former Gov. Tim Kaine (D). Edmondson tried unsuccessfully to soften what are likely to be the toughest rules in the nation for abortion clinics. “I think access (for abortion patients) will wind up being at risk in many parts of the state because of this, and that's too bad.”

The new rules won’t make the procedures safer, but will impose costs that will force the clinics to shut down, says Jill Abbey, director of the Richmond Medical Center for Women. “The regulation is unprovoked and over-reaching. They're purely and simply for closing clinics. They're doing a disservice to the women of Virginia,” Abbey told dailypress.com.

Erin Zabel, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southern Virginia agrees. “There's no medical basis for the regulations,” she said. “First-trimester procedures have virtually no complications. Eye surgeries and dermatology procedures use higher levels of sedation. It's clear that the intent is to put them out of business. Most work out of rented doctor's offices.”

Compliance will be monitored by state officials who, the rules mandate, must have access to any licensed abortion facility and can make unannounced inspection visits.

If approved by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), the rules are to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

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