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New Report Calls for Full Employment

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Fifty years ago, civil rights leaders dove head-first into the on-going debate over American economic policy by placing the fight for equal employment opportunities at the forefront of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Despite their efforts, Black child poverty, Black unemployment and the median income for Black males all peaked in the decade following the march and then headed south, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The EPI report, part of the “The Unfinished March” series on the 1963 March on Washington, looks at two warring economic ideologies, one centered on inflation, the other focused on full employment, that helped to shape American fiscal policy following the end of World War II.

Following World War II, as fears of another depression swelled, lawmakers acted to stabilize the economy. The United States Senate passed “The Full Employment Act, legislation that guaranteed the opportunity for well-paying, full-time jobs for all Americans willing and able to work. But the House of Representatives largely opposed the bill, calling the guarantee an entitlement. The Senate eventually stripped the guarantee and other language from the bill that the House opposed to get a version of the bill passed as the Employment Act of 1946.

The compromise ensured that the battle over the federal government’s role in guiding the free market economy would continue.

“[The Employment Act of 1946] did not settle the fundamental debate between those who feared inflation more than unemployment, or reconcile partisan views about the role of the government in the economy,” stated the report. “And full employment could only be guaranteed with the resolution of these debates in favor of using fiscal policy to pursue maximum employment.”

According to the report, median incomes for all American families flourished through the 1950s, growing by 38 percent. Black median family income increased by an astounding 41 percent. However, the decade’s prosperity was marred by the uncertainty of a series of economic valleys and peaks driven by slow-moving intervention by the federal government.

The report suggested that when business profits of the elite and the demand for jobs collided, lawmakers often protected the interests of business class at the peril of the working class.

“The recession of 1957, for example, had been created by the Federal Reserve putting inflation and business profits ahead of jobs and incomes for families,” stated the report.

The gains made by Black families underscored how deep and wide the income gap between Blacks and Whites remained.

“By the end of the 1960s, black median family income was a mere 55 percent of white median family income,” stated the report. “The black median family income of $21,466 (in 2011 dollars) in 1960 actually sat below the poverty threshold for a family of four.”

Prior to the 1963 March on Washington, the Kennedy administration acknowledged that, “government policy must be alert and flexible, ready to promote the achievement of full recovery within the coming fiscal year and to counteract developments which might threaten its attainment.”

Senior economic advisers in the administration favored policies that focused on full employment to spur economic growth and production. That was particularly needed in the Black community where the 1963 unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, compared to 5 percent for Whites.

As the EPI report noted, A. Philip Randolph opened the march on August 28, 1963, with these words:

“We are the advanced guard of a massive, moral revolution for jobs and freedom. This revolution reverberates throughout the land touching every city, every town, every village where black men are segregated, oppressed and exploited. But this civil rights revolution is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights, for our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not. And we know that we have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty.”

Following the 1963 march, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only outlawed discrimination in housing, education and voting, it also advanced a “new economic script” and banned discrimination in the workplace.

“Prior to the passage of the act, newspapers openly advertised positions by race, clearly identifying jobs where blacks need not apply,” stated the report.

The median income for Black men increased from $16,052 in 1963 to $21,064 in 1968. The poverty rate for Black children fell from 65.6 percent in 1965 to 39.6 percent in 1969.

According to the EPI report, the median income for Black men reached its zenith in 1973 at $23,135 (in 2011 dollars), slightly higher at $23,475 almost 40 years later.

The report blames the oil embargo by OPEC and the Iranian oil crisis for contributing to rising inflation and unemployment rates during the 1970s, which caused lawmakers to abandon policies that promoted full employment in favor of policies that sought to restrict inflation and control prices.

“And, the war against inflation became a war against workers’ demands for higher wages, as well,” stated the report. “The federal minimum wage, which has to be continually increased by law just to keep its real purchasing power from being eroded by inflation, remained unchanged from 1981 to 1990, at $3.35 an hour.”

From President Reagan’s open hostility towards unions to President Clinton’s move to strip Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) from the Social Security Act and turn much of the spending decisions for the programs over to the states, the EPI report found that fiscal policies “tilted toward profits, interest, and high-end compensation” and increasingly forced American workers to bear more of the risks during economic downturns and less of the rewards when the economy recovered.

The report suggested that another shift towards full employment principles is critical to stabilize the labor force and address income disparities. The recommendations included an “automatic response” in the form of a stimulus package triggered by a three-month downturn in national payroll employment. The automated stabilizer could immediately boost the economy without having to endure the slow-moving machinations of the federal government for approval.

The report also outlined a youth jobs program for 16 to 24 year-olds including full-time jobs for young people, 21-24 years-old, who were not enrolled in school. This program would have a dramatic impact on Black youth (16-19 years-old) who bear an unemployment rate of 36 percent compared to White youth with a jobless rate of 19.4 percent, according to the latest jobs report by the Labor Department.

The report recommended fixes for social safety net programs with the federal government assisting cash-strapped states with the associated costs and a financial transaction tax imposed on the financial sector.

As the Black community continues to suffer through depression-era levels of unemployment and poverty, the speeches from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that highlighted the need for full employment economic policies still ring true today. During his 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom speech, A.

Philip Randolph said: “It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits – for we are the worst victims of unemployment.”

President Obama Supports Small Business Saturday

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By Dorothy Rowley
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

President Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha helped support small businesses on Saturday, Nov. 30 by shopping at a bookstore in Northwest Washington.

The family made several purchases at the Politics and Prose bookstore on Small Business Saturday, which is designated as the Saturday during Thanksgiving weekend to boost sales at small businesses across the country. This year marks the third in a row that Obama has supported the event.

“I’ve got books in every age group from 5 to 52,” the president said as he paid for his items.

Among the Obamas’ long list of book selections were “The Kite Runner,” ”Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “The Sports Gene.”

Obama also tweeted about the significance of supporting small businesses.

Conference Tackles the Stigma Surrounding HIV/AIDS

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In 1992, Beverly Becton, addicted to drugs and suffering from pneumonia, began to scream as she sat in a hospital room alone at the D.C. General Hospital in Southeast, Washington, D.C.

“Oh, god why me! Oh, God why me!” Becton screamed.

Becton had just learned that she was HIV-positive at a time when many in the Black community and health care providers still believed that a positive test was an automatic death sentence. Becton said that the doctor who told her that she was HIV-positive, left her in the room without providing any treatment information, counseling or referrals. Becton called a niece and told her about the diagnosis.

Her niece freaked out. Later, Becton would tell the niece that she “was just playing” that she hadn’t contracted HIV. Becton’s older sister told her not to tell anybody else.

“My sister sent me into total denial,” said Becton. She continued to use drugs and avoided treatment as she waited to die.

The virus that causes AIDS that had killed so many others didn’t send her to her grave.

“One day I just got tired of dying, killing myself,” said Becton. Seven years after receiving her first diagnosis, Becton decided to get help, tackling the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS head on.

Becton, 52, now an AIDS activist, shared her story at the International Conference on Stigma at Howard University last week. The event featured lectures and panel discussions on the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and other health issues in an effort to raise awareness about what conference organizers called “major barrier to prevention and treatment of HIV and a violation of human rights.”

The audience included health care providers, students, community leaders, activists, and people living with HIV/AIDS and their family and friends.

Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan White’s mother, was the keynote speaker during the morning session. She talked about how her son, desperately wanted to be treated like everyone else at time when little was known about HIV/AIDS.

In 1984, Ryan White, born with hemophilia, gained national prominence when he was barred from attending school following an AIDS diagnosis at 13 years old, making him one of the youngest hemophiliacs to be diagnosed with AIDS. White won that battle, but after facing discrimination, protests and threats of violence in his hometown of Kokomo, Ind., White’s family moved and White transferred to a new school in Cicero, Ind., where students received HIV/AIDS education and training from physicians and health care providers before he arrived. Students and school officials at the new school welcomed White with open arms.

White died in April 1990 following complications from a respiratory infection. Four months later, Congress passed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, also known as the Ryan White Care Act. CARE is the largest government-run program that provides services for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Ryan White Care Act focuses on the most vulnerable underserved communities and provides assistance for nearly half a million people every year.

President Obama signed an extension in October 2009 and also worked to repeal a law banning people with HIV from traveling and immigrating to the United States.

“These events are important because they help people understand that [HIV/AIDS] is a health issue and to get accurate information,” said Ebony Johnson, policy and advocacy manager for the Women’s Collective, a non-profit group that advocates for the needs of women living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk for becoming infected.

Johnson added that conferences such as the International Conference on Stigma can help people living with HIV come out of isolation and help them realize that they are not alone that they can be successful and access services and find support networks.

Johnson said that a lot of the fear about the HIV/AIDS comes from the notion that it began as a gay White man’s disease.

“Then, it was a sex worker and drug user disease, then it was a disease of promiscuous people,” said Johnson. “Researchers, doctors and health care providers are still trying to outlive those negative monikers and bring this into a health conversation. But it’s hard because of the transmission route, it’s hard because it does involve sex, it involves pleasure, and it involves how people see themselves and how people realize their mortality.”

Johnson said that health care providers, community stakeholders have to be vigilant about re-messaging and repackaging what HIV is and what the possibilities for a better quality of life with treatment and also what health outcomes can be achieved.

Johnson continued: “People want to know that they can be healthy, that they can date, that they can have babies and that technology exists. I still think that we are late to the party when it comes to helping people understand that.”

Groups such as Metro TeenAIDS try to help young people get there a little bit earlier.

“First, you have to realize that stigma exists,” said Tafari Ali, education outreach coordinator for Metro TeenAIDS, a community health organization dedicated to partnering with young people to end HIV/AIDS. “A lot of young people don’t want to admit it.”

That tunnel-vision can have dire consequences among young people in the Black community.

Young, Black males 13-24 years-old accounted for 38 percent of new HIV infections, compared to 16 percent White males in the same age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black men were 31 percent of all new HIV infections and accounted for 70 percent of new HIV infections among blacks.

While Blacks represent around 14 percent of the total U.S. population, they accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections in 2010, a rate that was eight times higher than infection rate for Whites, according to the CDC. Whites represented 31 percent of the new HIV infections in 2010.

Ali said that Metro TeenAIDS combats the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and infections by empowering young people with information and training them as peer counselors to go out and educate their family, friends and classmates.

“We understand that health barriers minority communities face as well as the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS that prevents many minority populations from seeking medical care and adhering to treatment,” said Commander Jacqueline Rodrigue, deputy director of the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Even though we have made significance progress to fight against this national and global epidemic, HIV/AIDS continues to impact communities across our country and around the world especially our communities of color and other communities that live their lives on the margins of society.”

Speaking during the opening plenary session of the International Conference on Stigma, Rodrigue said that AIDS continues to be shocking and misunderstood and its heaviest burden continues to fall upon those who are least likely to have a voice and a place at the table when it matters the most.

“What stands between us and an AIDS-free generation is partly due to the persistent stigma that even now continues to spread fear, ignorance, discrimination and isolation and undermines efforts for prevention treatment and care,” said Rodrigue. “Breaking the silence, we must continue to have dialogues like this to promote open, honest and respectful discourse in order to turn the tide.”

Some Hopeful Signs in the HIV/AIDS War

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Rae Lewis Thornton likes to sneak in a tranquil tea time between expanding her brand and the 16 pills she has to take each day. But that’s nothing compared to the 21 pills she was taking in her darkest days of battling full-blown AIDS.

Thornton was diagnosed with HIV at 23 years old after attempting to donate blood. The following year she shared her story and made the cover of Essence magazine, instantly becoming toe face of HIV/AIDS for young, successful, heterosexual Black women, catapulting herself into a life of activism and ministry. Today, she continues to minister, teach, and welcome the world into her life through her award-winning syndicated blog, Diva Living with AIDS.

And she certainly is living. Now 51 years old, Thornton is an Emmy-Award winner, author, life coach and motivational speaker, jewelry designer, and avid reader.

“One thing I’ve done is live incredibly well with this disease,” says Thornton, who lives in Chicago. “But don’t confuse my HIV now with how it used to be. Now, they can keep you here and you can live a long life, but it is a very hard life.”

As of 2010, the HIV/AIDS mortality rate is 2.7 (per 100,000), down from 8.3 in 1990. Thanks to advances in research, treatment, and global management, HIV-positive people are living longer, better lives.

“It’s a mixed bag. We are still saddened by every new infection, and they’re still happening so rapidly,” says Adam Tenner, executive director of D.C.-based nonprofit, Metro Teen AIDS. “But it’s not like the old days, when we were burying people very quickly after diagnosis. We spend so much time looking at what’s broken, we don’t often look at what’s working.”

And there is a lot that is working. In D.C. for example, where the infamous infection rate has been compared to that of developing nations, the Department of Health is touting a 50 percent decline in new cases over the past four years, thanks to a battery of free services and community awareness campaigns. Nationally, the rate of infection for Black women is on the decline. Globally, the rate of new infections has dropped 33 percent since 2001.

“Things in 2013 are very, very, very different than it was in 1982, or 1992, or even 2002,” says Phill Wilson, founder and director of the Black AIDS Institute. “The treatments available today are better, faster, more effective, and less toxic than ever before.”

It’s not an overstatement to call the first generation of antiretrovirals toxic. HIV/AIDS medications are designed to block the enzymes that allow the virus to replicate; but in the 1990s, the drugs blocked both the virus and the body’s ability to generate healthy cells, thus crippling tissues and organs. Side effects included nausea, diarrhea, concentrated fatty deposits in some areas and natural-fat deterioration in others, kidney disease, hepatitis, bone loss, and even nerve damage.

People had to take a handful of these pills, several times daily. And usually, doctors wouldn’t start prescribing these pills until after the virus’ symptoms became dire.

Today, someone who’s diagnosed early and begins treatment immediately might take three pills a few times a day, with few, if any, dietary restrictions, and with mild side effects.

Wilson has been living with HIV for 35 years.

“I live an active life. I work, some would say too hard. I run, hike, scuba dive, white water raft – none of that would be possible without treatment,” he says. “And I’m not special. It’s not like I have secret access to something others don’t have access to.”

Improved treatment has also unexpectedly given rise to the development of preventative measures beyond the condom.

As Tenner, of Metro Teen AIDS explains, “We know that if we can get people on anti-virals early it improves their outcomes, but it also makes them less likely to transmit to others. You literally become less infectious. So what’s coming down the pike is how HIV negative people can protect themselves. We’re starting to put more tools in the box for people at higher risk of contracting HIV.”

He’s referring to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatments, which greatly reduce the chance of infection even if someone comes in direct contact with a pathogen (such as the HIV virus). It’s an old medical concept, but last year the drug Truvada became the first FDA-approved pill to protect against HIV. It was already in use as a treatment to lower the viral count in HIV-positive patients.

It’s still early, but those in the know are optimistic about Truvada’s potency as a PrEP pill.

“Every infection involves a -negative person and a –positive person, and now we have an answer for both sides of the equation,” Wilson says. “If we can get someone to a suppressed viral load, that reduces their ability to transmit by 96 percent. Condoms offer 70-percent protection, but if you’re on a pre-exposure prophylaxis and you do get exposed, you can reduce contracting HIV by 92 percent.”

The Affordable Care Act will have also have a major impact on the future HIV/AIDS in the United States.

Wilson says, “For people living with HIV, the Affordable Care Act will have a positive impact on all 1.1 million of us. It’s a game-changer in the world of HIV.”

HIV/AIDS is a difficult, expensive illness, and without insurance it’s hard to fight. Young people with HIV/AIDS have usually been ineligible for insurance for their pre-existing condition. If a person living with HIV did manage to get insurance, their provider could drop them if their medical bills got too expensive. If that person managed to keep their insurance and pay their premiums each month, they could still be denied coverage if their bills breach the annual or lifetime medical cost cap.

The ACA outlaws all of these insurance practices.

On November 21, HIV-positive Americans also gained another layer of health care access when President Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE) into law. First introduced in February, the HOPE Act revises current laws to allow the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to set up regulations for acquiring, transporting, and transplanting organs infected with HIV for HIV-positive patients who need them. The bill also decriminalizes organ donation for HIV-positive Americans (as long as it is done under these regulations), and calls for annual research and revisions for these guidelines.

Although much progress has been made, HIV/AIDS is still an epidemic.

The infection rate among young men of all races who have sex with men (gay, bisexual, or MSM) is still high, with 28,500 new diagnoses in 2010. One in five people living with HIV are unaware of their status. Advocates and organizers say the stigma surrounding HIV still not only prevents people from getting tested, but also from sharing their positive status with loved ones and sexual partners.

In addition, the disease is no longer “the sexy health topic to talk about,” according to Thornton.

Still, there is progress. The future of HIV/AIDS lies in developing PrEP methods; in widespread, early diagnosis and treatment; and in providing support and resources for those who are diagnosed with or affected by the virus.

Wilson says we all have a role to play in eradicating HIV/AIDS, and that community support for the organizations leading the fight is crucial. Thornton agrees, citing the support of the Black church as one of the most encouraging things she’s seen in her travels.

“We won’t be able to end the epidemic if we don’t do the right thing. Now is the time to renew our dedication to fighting HIV/AIDS, because we now have the pathways to get there,” Wilson says. “And for the Black community, we need to stay involved to make sure we aren’t left behind. It would be tragic to lose this opportunity.”

President Honors 'True Champions' with Medal of Freedom

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During what he called one of his “favorite events every year,” President Obama presented 16 outstanding individuals, including four African Americans, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

President John F. Kennedy created the Presidential Medal of Freedom 50 years ago to honor exceptional people for their courage and contributions to society during their careers.

This year, President Obama selected 16 individuals for the honor.

The president praised Ernie Banks for his play in the Negro Leagues and for being the first Black player on the Chicago Cubs major league baseball team. Nicknamed “Mr. Cub,” Banks, won Most Valuable Player awards in 1958 and 1959 and played in 14 All- Star games. Banks hit 512 home runs during his career.

C.T. Vivian, a Baptist minister and adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored for his work leading the Freedom Riders and his efforts to register Black voters in Selma, Ala., where he was bloodied by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark after leading a Black delegation downtown to register.

President Obama also recognized Bayard Rustin, posthumously, for his work and sacrifices during the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin, an openly gay civil rights leader, was the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The president honored Oprah Winfrey for her incredible broadcast journalism career and her charitable contributions. Winfrey can add the Presidential Medal of Freedom to her resume, which also includes Bob Hope Humanitarian Award and the Kennedy Center Honors Award. Oprah’s daytime talk show ran for more than 4500 episodes.

“Oprah’s greatest strength has always been her ability to help us discover the best in ourselves. Michelle and I count ourselves among her many devoted fans and friends,” said President Obama.

President Bill Clinton earned his Presidential Medal of Freedom for his public service that “was just getting started” when he left office.

“[President Clinton] doesn’t stop,” said Obama. “He’s helped lead relief efforts after the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake. His foundation and global initiative have helped to save or improve the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people.”

Also honored were Ben Bradlee, a former executive editor of The Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper’s award-winning coverage of the Watergate scandal; Late Senator Daniel Inouye (honored posthumously), the first Japanese American to serve in Congress; Daniel Kahneman, a scholar who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002; Richard Lugar, a former Senator from Indiana who led the effort to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and Loretta Lynn, the country music icon who won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

In addition, President Obama recognized Mario Molina, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist and environmental scientist; Gloria Steinem, the women’s rights activist and co-founder of Ms. magazine; Arturo Sandoval, a Grammy Award-winning jazz musician; Sally Ride (honored posthumously), the first American female astronaut to travel to space; Dean Smith, the former head coach of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team who won two national titles and graduated 96 percent of his players; and Patricia Wald, the first woman to serve on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

President Obama said: “These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us.”

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