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Black Unemployment Dips to 5-Year Low

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – he Black unemployment rate fell to a five-year low in November, according to the latest jobs report by the Labor Department, but economists saw little to celebrate as Congress inaction threatens the federal unemployment insurance programs that helps millions of families.

The unemployment rate for Blacks fell to 12.5 percent last month the lowest since December 2008 when it was 11.9 percent. In January 2009, the same month President Obama started his first term the rate jumped to 12.6 percent.

The unemployment rate for Whites ticked down from 6.3 percent in October to 6.2 percent in November.

The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 also improved dropping from 13 percent in October to 12.3 percent in November. The jobless rate for White men fell from 6.2 percent in October to 6 percent in November. The jobless rate for Black women fell from 11.5 percent in October to 11.1 percent in November, compared to White women that saw their unemployment rate fall from 5.5 percent in October to 5.3 percent in November.

Black youth between 16-19 years old continue to suffer the worst unemployment rate at 35.8 percent. The unemployment rate for White youth in the same age group was 18.6 percent in November.

The economy added 203,000 jobs last month.

“What this report shows is that the economy continues to grow at a very tepid pace,” said Bernard Anderson, an economist and professor emeritus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “The economy is not growing at a rate that will reduce the overhang of long-term unemployment.”

Economists fear that Congress won’t act to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits, a move that could stifle job growth in 2014.

“For lawmakers to not be considering extending [unemployment insurance] means that they are really not looking at what’s happening in the economy and they think that things are better than they are,” said Elise Gould, the director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute.

Gould continued: “What’s often missed in these discussions is that these unemployment payments to people actually provide stimulus for the economy. Without [the benefits] the labor market will actually lose more jobs in 2014.”

Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agreed.

In a blog on the center’s website, Stone wrote: “Despite improvements this year, the labor market is still not strong enough for policymakers to let emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) expire as scheduled during Christmas week.”

According to CBPP, the long-term unemployment rate has never been higher than 1.3 percent when the federal unemployment insurance program ended after past recessions. The current long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent. More than 4 million people have been looking for work longer than six months.

If Congress allows the emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) to lapse, Stone wrote: “That means more hardship for the families of workers who are still struggling to find a job, and it also means that families that lose EUC will have less to spend. Reduced spending, in turn, will hurt the recovery and slow job creation.”

Those hardships would be disastrous for the families of Black workers, who continue to endure higher levels of unemployment than White workers.

The number of Black workers either employed or looking for work fell from 60.7 percent in October to 60.6 percent in November, compared to White workers who saw an uptick in their labor force participation rate from 63 percent in October to 63.1 percent in November. A decrease in the labor force can make the unemployment rate look better than it does on the ground.

“In general, nothing has changed in the relative economic position of African Americans relative to Whites in November compared to what it was in October,” said Anderson. “I don’t see anything to shout about. I guess one can be happy that the African American unemployment rate didn’t go up, but the unemployment rate didn’t go up for anybody.”

Anderson continued: “African Americans have a relationship with the American economy similar to the caboose on the train. When the train speeds up, the caboose speeds up, and when the train slows down, the caboose slows down, but in the natural order of things, the caboose never catches up with the engine. That’s what these numbers show you.”

Reform Law Could Pose Major Threat to Black Banks

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By Charles Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

When President Obama signed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (otherwise known as Dodd-Frank) into law in the summer of 2010, no one could be satisfied. Only bill creator and outgoing Sen. Chris Dodd was putting a happy spin on it at the time, while Rep. Barney Frank, a famously crabby Congressman from southern Massachusetts, reluctantly put his political capital behind it before retiring.

Supporters of the law were pretty dim on its prospect as an effective Wall Street enforcement tool, with many decrying it as toothless. Critics, on the other hand, were equally disdainful for different reasons: They saw Dodd-Frank as not only the bane of the financial services industry and big banks, but the cataclysmic end of capitalism as we knew it.

Three years later, and Wall Street is still humming along alive and well with record breaking markers on the stock market. The top banks, wealth management and other financial service firms in the United States hold over $10 trillion in total assets, according to the latest Federal Reserve report, nearly $3 trillion more than they held in 2008 before the Great Recession laid waste to the economy.

But as the fog of Dodd-Frank appears to lift somewhat, critics on both sides of the aisle agree that the law’s focus on big banks has come at the expense of smaller community banks. That includes the less than two dozen African American-owned banks lightly sprinkled throughout the nation and struggling to serve economically battered African American communities.

According to a white paper released during a recent Community Bank Research Conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, more than 250 banks with assets under $250 million have failed since 2002. The bulk of those failures occurred at the onset of the financial crisis in 2009 but continued persisting even as Dodd-Frank went into effect. While the rate at which smaller banks failed decreased significantly, it didn’t go unnoticed by experts that the pace of big bank failures since Dodd-Frank dropped sharply compared to small outfits. In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, 30 banks with assets over $1 billion failed. But, by 2012, only 1 big bank failed compared to 35 smaller community banks.

“Communities cannot reach their full potential without the local presence of a bank,” warned Thomas Boyle, vice chairman of Illinois-based State Bank of Countryside during a Congressional hearing on Dodd-Frank in 2011. “Hundreds of new regulations … are slowly but surely strangling traditional community banks and handicapping our ability to meet the credit needs of our communities.”

Two years later, B. Doyle Mitchell, Jr., President and CEO of Industrial Bank, is ringing the same alarm bell. Testifying before a House Small Business Committee panel last week, Mitchell’s tone was grim in his assessment of Dodd-Frank’s impact on his business. Industrial, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the largest and oldest African-American banks in the country, with total assets valued near $350 million.

“These regulations are being enacted in response to the worst abuses of the pre-crisis mortgage market, abuses in which community banks did not engage,” explained Mitchell during testimony. “In order to reach their full potential as catalysts for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation, community banks must have regulation that is calibrated to their size, lower-risk profile, and traditional business model.”

Mitchell argues that small banks like Industrial are getting hit with the cost of massive compliance provisions built into Dodd-Frank. Meeting regulations means hiring more staff and using scarce resources community banks like Industrial don’t have. Financial analyst and credit rating firm Standard and Poor’s projects the eight largest U.S. banks will have to spend $34 billion annually just on compliance. That figure excludes the $100 billion plus in legal fees these same banks have spent shielding themselves from regulators.

African-American banks only boast combined total assets worth less than $5 billion. As a result, bankers like Mitchell worry Dodd-Frank could pose an existential threat to Black banks.

In response, the Independent Community Bankers of America, a coalition of small banks, is proposing an alternative Plan for Prosperity bill to address the disparity. “By rebalancing unsustainable regulatory burden, the plan, if adopted by Congress, will ensure that scarce capital and labor resources are used productively, not sunk into unnecessary compliance costs,” says Mitchell. “This allows community banks to better focus on lending and investing that will directly improve the quality of life in our communities.”

“For those who have survived the regulatory burden it has required staff to spend more time on compliance than on helping customers,” said Rep. David Schweikert during that same hearing. “Consumers will have less choice when it comes to accessing financial services.”

To have one of the nation’s most prominent African-American bankers express concern about the impact of Dodd-Frank before Congress is particularly telling. It’s prompting Dodd-Frank supporters and Democrats such as the subcommittee’s ranking member Rep. Yvette Clarke to cautiously take a second look at the law.

“These one-size-fits-all solutions, the unintended consequences often times are not worth it,” said Clarke shortly after Mitchell’s testimony. “Even if there’s the fear that these regulations will be burdensome and it shocks the culture of the institutions that we’re trying to preserve, then we’re defeating the purpose that we’re all seeking.”

Clarke, a Congressional Black Caucus member, has reason to worry. Four of the largest Black banks in the U.S. – Industrial among them – are in the New York Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation region. That includes United Bank of Philadelphia, which holds nearly $70 million in assets.

Still Clarke reminded lawmakers and witnesses about why Dodd-Frank “was implemented in the first place.”

“Five years ago, widespread malfeasance brought our nation to the brink of financial collapse,” said Clarke. “If it were not for swift Congressional action, we’d be living in a different America today.”

Democrats and GOP still Clash over Judicial Appointments

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Just before Thanksgiving break, the Senate voted to eliminate the super-majority needed to end filibusters on executive level and judicial nominees, clearing the path for President Obama’s most recent selections. Despite threats and consternation from the Republican Party, political pundits suggest that little will change in Washington.

The vote on the rule change came a few days after Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nomination of Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most important court in the nation.

Less than a month earlier, in an unprecedented move, Republicans blocked Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), a sitting congressman and President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The GOP also jammed Patricia Millet’s nomination to the D.C. Appeals Court.

In a statement following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the vote was “about making Washington work – regardless of who’s in the White House or who controls the Senate. To remain relevant and effective as an institution, the Senate must evolve to meet the challenges of a modern era.”

In the modern era of unprecedented obstruction by Republicans, Reid presided over one of the most ineffective U.S. Senate chambers in history in 2012.

According to a Brennan Center for Justice report, titled “Curbing Filibuster Abuse,” the 112th United States Congress ratified 196 public laws, “the lowest output of any Congress since at least World War II.”

The Senate passed less than 3 percent of the bills that came to the floor, a 66 percent drop off from 2005-2006.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said the vote was absolutely necessary.

“The filibuster had become a weapon of mass obstruction,” said Morial.

In a statement following the Senate’s vote to eliminate the use of the filibuster on presidential nominees except for those to the Supreme Court, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “Now, judicial nominees will move forward and begin to do their jobs, particularly in addressing the unprecedented workloads that have been left to sitting judges due to the high vacancy levels in both federal and district courts. Administration nominees will no longer have their confirmation hindered and unreasonably blocked.”

President Obama expressed his support for the Senate’s filibuster vote and his frustration over GOP obstruction in Congress.

“Over the six decades before I took office, only 20 presidential nominees to executive positions had to overcome filibusters,” said President Obama. “In just under five years since I took office, nearly 30 nominees have been treated this way. These are all public servants who protect our national security, look out for working families, keep our air and water clean.”

GOP leaders are threatening to retaliate in the future.

“If you want to play games and set yet another precedent that you’ll no doubt come to regret. I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle you’ll regret this,” said Senate Minority Leader McConnell before the vote. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

Some political pundits found the threats incredulous.

“That’s like saying the Republicans are going to do something worse than what they are doing now,” said Lorenzo Morris, political science professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “The only thing that [Democrats] would regret is that they didn’t do more to improve their position.”

Morris continued: “There have been rules for a long time to protect the concerned, but relatively elite minority in the Senate. Now we’re returning to majority rule. Americans have to appreciate the fact that a central foundation to American democracy is majority rule. By removing the filibuster, Democrats have reinstated majority rule in Senate decision-making.”

Morris said that the filibuster rule has been powerful because party politics has been given to consensus at the very end. Morris said that consensus no longer exists.

“There have been rules for a long time to protect the concerned but relatively elite minority in the Senate,” said Morris. “Now we’re returning to majority rule. Americans have to appreciate the fact that a central foundation to American democracy is majority rule. By removing the filibuster Democrats have reinstated majority rule in Senate decision-making.”

In coming weeks, political experts agree that Robert Wilkins, an African-American judge who was rated “Unanimously Well Qualified” by the American Bar Association, will be confirmed before the end of the year.

“What makes Judge Wilkins unique he can see from the corporate level and the defendant level he has a well-rounded background you often don’t get that, said Patricia Rosier, president of the National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association of African American lawyers and judges. “A lot of times they go from a law firm to the bench or from law school to the bench they don’t have all those real experiences with real people.”

Rosier said that of all the legacies a president can leave the federal judiciary is the most lasting.

“Judges appointed to the federal judiciary are appointed for life. That has wide ramifications for decades,” said Rosier. “When some of these people sit for 20, 30, 40 years you can see how many generations of people that their decisions can affect.”

Republicans still wield significant power to block the president’s appeals court nominations due to the “blue slip rule” which calls for consent from both senators from the state to begin hearings on judicial nominee that serves in their state. Democrats may be less inclined to change that rule.

Rosier said that it’s up to voters to pressure their senators to take action.

“If nothing else we need to educate our community about the federal judiciary,” said Rosier. “People should be up in arms and writing and shutting down the switchboards to get these judges confirmed.”

32 Mugshots of Black Men on Cover of Tennessee Newspaper Cause Uproar

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By Richard Prince
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier

On Nov. 5, the Times Free Press published a front-page story about the arrests of 32 men charged with gun and drug crimes after a four-year local and federal investigation. Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd called the suspects the ‘worst of the worst’ in Chattanooga’s criminals,” Alison Gerber, editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Tennessee, wrote to readers on Sunday.

“We heard no reaction from readers. Not a peep.

“On Nov. 17, the newspaper published a second front-page story about the suspects and their criminal histories. This time, we were barraged with feedback. Some of the words used to describe the report: irresponsible, distasteful, racist.

“The difference? The second story included the mugshots of all 32 suspects. And the photos highlighted something: All 32 suspects are Black men.

“See their faces all in one grouping and you can’t ignore that. You can’t just shrug it off.

“It was an in-your-face presentation, and some readers thought it was a mistake, that we should not have published the mugshots at all. Even some in the newsroom disagreed with the decision to run them – or thought we should have placed them on an inside page where they wouldn’t be as noticeable and would be seen by fewer people.

“Many argued with the choice to refer to the men as the ‘worst of the worst,’ even though those words were chosen by Dodd, a man who’s been in law enforcement for a quarter of a century.

“The combination of those two things – the photos of 32 faces and the label ‘worst of the worst’ – prompted a visceral reaction.

“Some of the people who complained didn’t read the story, which was balanced and actually asked why the ‘worst of the worst’ were only Black. . . .”

Gerber was apparently unaware of lessons learned at the Philadelphia Daily News when it published a similar front page in 2002. That front page pictured 18 police mug shots of fugitives wanted for murder by Philadelphia police. All were either African American, Hispanic or Asian.

It did not matter what the story said.

Attorney Sharif Street, eldest son of then-Philadelphia Mayor John Street, said then that the portrayal would make life tougher for every young African American male in Philadelphia.

“I’m not so much focused on the text of the story but more on the imagery of the front cover,” said Street, who was 28. “It damages the quality of life for the average male my age because it portrays us as the enemy of society.”

Ellen Foley, managing editor at the time, apologized to the people of Philadelphia. Protesting the front page, the Coalition for Fair News Coverage emerged, “an organization made up of more than 100 African-American church, community, civic, civil rights and business organizations, all with a simple message for Black readers of the Daily News: Don’t buy it; don’t read it,” Kia Gregory and Jonathan Valania reported in 2003 for Philadelphia Weekly.

“Eight days after the publication of the ‘FUGITIVE’ issue, which brought the Daily News countless letters and phone calls – both critical and supportive – the newspaper issued an apology to its readers.

“After ‘much soul-searching’ in the newsroom, the apology read, it was apparent that “the front page photos … sent the message to some readers that only Black men commit murder.”

Then-Editor Zack Stalberg was on vacation when the mug-shot issue was published, and “believes the cover was a mistake,” Gregory and Valania wrote.

“‘That was bad journalism on our part,’ he says. ‘First, we failed to ask the larger question of why all the fugitives that were wanted during that time period were nonwhite. Second, we made a mistake visually and repeated one guy’s picture three times. Thirdly, the cover gave the impression that the only people committing murder in Philadelphia are nonwhites.

“Stalberg says if he had seen the cover before it went to press, he would have pulled it. . . .” Michael Days, now the Daily News’ editor, then its deputy managing editor, said in the Weekly story, “I thought we were doing our readers a favor by getting some pretty bad people off the street. Sometimes we are guilty of tunnel vision. The visual impact of all those black men accused of crimes – well, you can imagine the message that sends. I would not have seen it that way if I had been in the newsroom that day. I see every cover before it goes to the printer, and I would have waved it through. However, in the wake of all this reaction, I would not make that mistake again.” Days is African American.

Chattanooga is not Philadelphia, but there are similarities. African Americans are 34.9 percent of Chattanooga’s population, and 43.4 percent in Philadelphia, according to census figures. In the Tennessee city, Black men make up most of the city’s shooting and homicide victims, which is likely in Philadelphia as well.

In defending her paper, Gerber wrote, “The newspaper didn’t arrest or indict the men. We didn’t label them the city’s worst criminals. We did, after much discussion, make the decision to publish their photos.

“Even if we had not done so, that would not change the fact that 32 Black men were arrested and branded the worst of the worst. It still happened, even if we didn’t run the photos. But when no one had to see those 32 faces all in one place, it was easier to ignore the fact that the suspects were all men and were all black. It might make the round-up more palatable, but it wouldn’t change the facts.

“So even though the paper caught some heat for running the mugshots, I believe it was the right thing to do.

“Yes, my phone rang with calls from angry readers. Yes, people called radio stations and debated the decision, and displayed their rage on social media (some supported running the mugshots).

“But at least people are now talking about this issue. And people are not just talking about the arrests, but about the societal conditions that push people to choose crime – poor education, lack of jobs, criminal records that, even if they want to go straight, make it difficult to find work once they get out of jail. All of these issues were raised at a meeting the NAACP held Tuesday night to discuss the arrests.

“In other words, the display of mugshots got people talking about possible solutions.

“Not a bad thing. . . .”

More Than 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses

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Special to the NNPA from The Louisiana Weekly

In an in-depth study of people serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses in the United States, the ACLU found that at least 3,278 prisoners fit this category in federal and state prisons combined. Louisiana has the highest number in the nation, with 429 individuals serving life without parole.

“A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses” features key statistics about these prisoners, an analysis of the laws that produced their sentences, and case studies of 110 men and women serving these sentences. Of the 3,278 prisoners, 79 percent were convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes such as possession or distribution; 20 percent of nonviolent property crimes like theft.

“The punishments these people received are grotesquely out of proportion to the crimes they committed,” said Jennifer Turner, ACLU Human Rights Researcher and author of the report. “In a humane society, we can hold people accountable for drug and property crimes without throwing away the key.”

The ACLU estimates that, of the 3,278 serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, 65 percent are Black, 18 percent are white and 16 percent are Latino, evidence of extreme racial disparities. Of the 3,278, most were sentenced under mandatory sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums and habitual offender laws that required them to be incarcerated until they die. The ACLU estimates that federal and state taxpayers spend $1.8 billion keeping these people in prison for life instead of more appropriate terms.

“The people profiled in our report are an extreme example of the millions of lives ruined by the persistent ratcheting up of our sentencing laws over the last 40 years,” said Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. “We must change our sentencing practices to make our justice system smart, fair, and humane. It’s time to undo the damage wrought by four decades of the War on Drugs and ‘tough-on-crime’ attitudes.”

In Louisiana, Warden Burl Cain of Angola has described these sentences as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Patrick Matthews, sentenced for stealing tools from a tool shed in Slidell, said “It feels like you are dead to the world, empty inside and stripped of your children’s life…Stripped from the world, who treats you as if you are dead, in the tomb.” Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said “this is another illustration of Louisiana’s shameful status as the world’s leading incarcerator. It makes no sense to sentence people to die in prison when they aren’t violent, haven’t hurt anyone, and could be rehabilitated to become productive members of society.”

In addition to interviews, correspondence, and a survey of hundreds of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, the ACLU based “A Living Death” on court records, a prisoner survey, and data from the United States Sentencing Commission, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state Departments of Corrections obtained through Freedom of Information Act and open records requests.

“A Living Death” features comments from the prisoners’ family members, and in multiple instances, prisoners’ sentencing judges express frustration and outrage at the severity of the punishment the law required. Judge Milton I. Shadur told Rudy Martinez as he sentenced Martinez to life without parole: “[F]airness has departed from the system.”

The report, released earlier this month, includes recommendations to federal and state governments for changes in sentencing and clemency. The proposed policy reforms would help bring balance back to sentencing—crucial steps to reduce our nation’s dependence on incarceration.

“We must change the laws that have led to such unconscionable sentences,” said Turner. “For those now serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, President Obama and state governors must step in and reduce their sentences. To do nothing is a failure of justice.”

The report is available for download at www.aclu.org/fairandsmart.

This article originally published in the November 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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