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Nation Suffers Because of Underrepresentation of Black Women in Politics

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The gaping underrepresentation of women of color on the political stage deeply undermines the American ideal of democratic representation.

That’s a conclusion reached by the Center for American Progress and detailed in an article titled, “Why We Need a Political Leadership Pipeline for Women of Color.”

The article, part of the Center’s Women in Leadership project, was unveiled during a panel event featuring prominent women of color scholars, organizers, and professionals.

“The relative lack of women of color serving in elected office raises grave concerns regarding democratic legitimacy and the fundamental issues of political representation,” the article states. “Lack of representation, of course, can mean a lack of attention to and advocacy for issues important to communities of color. And…translates into a major missed opportunity for the empowerment of underserved communities.”

Today, there are 14 African American women in Congress, less than 3 percent of that body. There is only one woman of color in the Senate, an Asian American. And both delegates to Congress – elected representatives who do not have the right to vote except in committees – are Black women.

The picture is the same at the state level. Black women hold about 3 percent of the country’s 7,383 state legislative seats, across 40 states. Among the 100 largest cities, Baltimore is the only one currently led by a Black woman mayor.

“What I’ve experienced over these years is that if it’s something that’s beyond Black, then it isn’t necessarily obviously seen that a Black woman could be the lead of it,” said panelist Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “Because it’s a multi-racial or multi-ethnic, so therefore – ‘No, we’ll get to your issue later.’ There’s the reality that, in a broad women’s movement, for Black women and [other] women of color, are we all equal in that opportunity for leadership?”

According to the article, lack of representation in politics results in a lack of attention to issues that affect women and people of color more. Moreover, males and females behave differently in politics.

A 2009 report from now defunct The White House Project notes that on average, women in Congress introduce more bills, attract more co-sponsors, and bring home more money for their districts than their male counterparts.

Even in high-stress professions, women can more than hold their own.

For example, Val Demings, the keynote speaker at the Women in Leadership panel, is the first woman to serve as police chief of Orlando, Florida. In her four-year term, violent crime dropped 40 percent.

A 2006 study in the Journal of Women, Politics & Policy found that Latina representatives in four southwestern states were more likely than their male counterparts to prioritize the needs of African Americans and Asians, as well as women and families.

But women need to be represented in more than token numbers, Demings said.

“I can only speak as a Black woman…but if you don’t see a whole lot of folks who look like you doing what you’re thinking about doing, it’s tough to believe that you can do it,” she said in her keynote address.

After she retired as police chief, the mayor urged her to consider running for Congress.

“I was meeting with a member of Congress and he said to me that women have to be asked about seven times to run for public office before they’ll even consider it,” Demings recalls. “I was floored. I felt like I was a pretty assertive, bold, going-into-places-where-others-would-dare-not-go type of person – but I was on my seventh ask.”

Demings ran for a House seat in 2012 on the Democratic ticket. She lost the race to the incumbent candidate by 3.5 percentage points, in a district that was 69 percent white. Currently, Demings is running for mayor of Orange County, Florida.

In a 2012 study, American University researchers found that women are both less likely than men to have anyone suggest they run for office, and twice as likely as men to consider themselves “not at all qualified” for the job. Consequently, fewer women – especially women of color – decide to run for office.

“The barriers holding back women of color are undoubtedly much the same as those shown to limit the political ambitions of all women in general: lack of financial resources, weaker social networks, lack of familiarity with the political process, a greater level of responsibility for children and household tasks, and a greater tendency to be more risk-averse than potential male candidates,” the article explains. “The lack of economic support is perhaps one of the greatest barriers for women of color, as they are often the primary or sole caregivers of their children and their elders, earn less, and have considerably less wealth than men of color and white men and women.”

But there is some encouraging news.

According to the Center for American Progress, women of color are increasingly showing up to the polls; African American women voter turnout rose from nearly 60 percent to nearly 70 percent between 2004 and 2008 (Latinas and Asian American women made 20, and 17 percent gains, respectively, in the same time period). This is higher than the 2008 national voting average of 58.2 percent.

If all eligible women of color voted, that would mean more than 41.8 million votes – or, the equivalent of 62.5 percent of President Barack Obama’s 2008 votes, and 71.7 percent of John McCain’s.

“As I worked through voting rights issues, and working in civic engagement…[I was] focusing on what to do to really deal with the power of the sistah vote,” said Campbell. “I say that as an affirmation, because we have not met that yet. We have the numbers, we turn out, people say we’re the most progressive vote, but we have yet to benefit from that power.”

Haitians Asking the Obama Administration to Allow Federal Suits Against United Nations

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Victims of the 2010 cholera epidemic should get their day in New York federal courts and ultimately be compensated for pain and suffering caused by UN troops

By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

A legal battle is looming in federal courts in New York over compensation to victims of the 2010 cholera outbreak in the Caribbean country.

Survivors of the outbreak that took the lives of thousands of people and sickened tens of thousands more are taking their cases to federal court in New York after failing to get the United Nations to offer compensation for their pain, suffering and loss of relatives.

And they are being joined by members of the large Haitian Diaspora in the Northeastern region of U.S. and Florida, including elected officials in Massachusetts and New York who want Washington to stay out of the looming court fight by not joining hands with the UN to frustrate the wishes of those who survived the outbreak four years ago.

What the Haitians are asking the U.S. federal court to do is decline to grant the UN immunity from legal action in the wake of law suits filed recently in the federal district court in Brooklyn in November. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation from the international organization for the tragedy which occurred when UN peace-keeping and humanitarian forces allegedly took the disease to the Caribbean country after the earthquake.

“We were a country free of cholera and all available scientific evidence suggests the UN forces introduced cholera into Haiti” Dr. Mathieu Eugene, a Haitian immigrant who belongs to the New York City Council told the Carib News. “It is important that the suits filed on behalf of the Haitian victims be allowed to proceed in the federal courts. That’s what this country is about: justice and Haitians too must get justice.”

Dr. Eugene, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now in his second and final term at City Hall, said that Haitians should be compensated for the “pain and suffering” they suffered “as a result of the spread of the disease after the devastating deadly earthquake hit in 2010 killing an estimated 250,000 people; leaving more than a million nationals homeless; and causing billions of dollars in damage to the country’s infrastructure.

Hundreds of cholera victims and their relatives filed a class action suit in New York earlier this month seeking to block any immunity being granted to the UN. Back in November, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based organization filed a suit in New York seeking compensation for the deaths and the injuries to other victims caused by the outbreak. More than 2,000 Haitian died and thousands more were sickened by the disease. In all, there are about four law suits now before U.S. courts in connection with the cholera epidemic and they can be traced to what is being generally seen as an unwillingness of the U.N to assume responsibility for the tragedy. Scientists have said that UN soldiers from Nepal took the disease to Haiti and contributed to its spread because of poor sanitation which caused human waste to seep into rivers and streams that Haitians used as drinking water.

A U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, was quoted recently as saying in response to questions about the suits that it was “standard practice for the organization to assert its immunity in cases filed against it in national courts. In short, the action by the U.S. State Department’s action to uphold UN immunity was nothing new.

However, Evelyn Swiderski, a spokesperson for the lawyers involved in the class-action suit cited documents which “explicitly waived sovereign immunity” when UN peacekeeping troops were first sent to Haiti in 2004.

“This express waiver of immunity by the United Nations was missed by the U.S. government in a letter” filed with the court in New York City Swiderski insisted.

But Dr. Eugene, the first Haitian-born immigrant to be elected to the City Council, wasn’t the only elected official of Haitian descent to insist that the U.S. shouldn’t try to block the suits.

Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who also belongs to the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, has fired off a letter U.S. Secretary of State warning against the U.N seeking to frustrate the efforts of Haitian to get justice in U.S. courts.

She was worried, she said, that the “UN will now try to prevent the victims o from having their day in court by asking your Department to intervene in favor of its impunity.

“We urge you and your department to stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court,” she added.

NNPA Luncheon Focuses on Black Economics, Growing Income Gap

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By James Wright
Washington Informer

WASHINGTON – The economic status of African-Americans and the “crisis-level” income gap between the rich and the poor was the agenda of this year’s State of the Black Press luncheon Friday at the National Press Club in D.C.

The event, sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, featured discourse among journalists and financial experts about the different factors affecting Black economics, including the crippling recession that some said wiped out gains made by middle-class Blacks during the recent recession.

“The recession supposedly ended in 2009 but there are still adverse effects,” said economist Valerie Wilson, who works with the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. “At the rate of recovery that is taking place we will not reach pre-recession employment levels possibly until 2018.”

Wilson took part in the panel, “Access to Economic Opportunity,” which was moderated by NNPA News Service Editor-in-Chief George E. Curry. Author Maggie Anderson and William Spriggs, former Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration and chairman of Howard University’s economics department, also sat on the panel.

Spriggs said that income inequality is fast becoming an unfortunate fact of life.

“The collapse of the economy in the late-2000s affected the lower 99 percent of the population but the 1 percent still did well,” he said. “The top 500 [Standard & Poor] corporations got 30 percent of the income while the middle class is increasingly on a down escalator. The growing income inequality is at a crisis level.”

Spriggs said that income inequality started when President Reagan claimed that middle- and low-income Americans were hampering the economic growth of the country.

“Reagan told the 80 percent at the top of the economic ladder that they were being hurt by the 20 percent on the bottom because of the government,” he said. “That is an example of class warfare and there are some people now trying to recreate that Reagan moment.”

Anderson, who received national attention in 2009 when she and her family decided to live for a year solely on products and services provided by Black businesses, wrote a book, Our Black Year, that chronicled the struggle for Black businesses in the Chicago metropolitan area despite its huge Black population and spending power.

”There was only one Black grocery store in all of Chicago and it was very nice,” she said. “It only lasted eight months.”

Anderson managed to buy gas from a Black-owned Citgo service station that was miles away from her home and frequently bought produce from Black farmers in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. She said the experience taught her that Black businesses do not engage Black consumers enough and the services of Black professionals must be used.

“In order to find a Black business, one should go to their area Black chamber of commerce and Urban League,” she said.

Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc., said that sometimes Black businesses do not want to be identified as such, which he said is a mistake.

“There is a stigma about Black businesses not being good enough to provide quality services and products and that is not true,” Busby said. “Businesses should be proud to be Black.”

Final Push to Get Blacks Signed Up for Health Insurance

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With less than two weeks left to sign up for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, grassroots supporters of the mandatory law and federal health officials are rushing to enroll Blacks, other people of color and young people in order to meet the Obama administration’s goal of reaching 7 million people by the end of this month.

The administration has enlisted past and present NBA superstars Lebron James, Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning for television ads urging people to get enrolled by March 31 that will air on ESPN, ABC, TNT and NBA TV. James will be featured in a television ad running during the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Online videos featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and mothers of celebrities including Jonah Hill, Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Lopez that targeted mothers and women also encourage people to get covered.

Last week, President Obama traded comedic jabs with Zach Galifianakis on a mock talk show called “Between Two Ferns.” Obama appeared on the show with the star of the “The Hangover” movie franchise in an effort to pitch HealthCare.Gov to a younger, hipper audience most likely to watch the show.

However, just as he has done throughout his time in the White House, President Obama has refused to grant an interview to the National Newspaper Publishers Association New Service, which serves a federation of approximately 200 newspapers with a readership of 19 million.

According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56 percent of people who don’t have health insurance have an unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act.

Fifty-seven percent of Whites have an unfavorable opinion of the ACA and 29 percent view the law favorably.

In sharp contrast, 53 percent of Blacks like the new health care law that mandates health insurance coverage for all, more than twice the 24 percent of Blacks don’t like the law.

In the upcoming weeks, Enroll America, a non-partisan, non-profit national group that informs consumers about health insurance options and helps people sign up for plans, will partner with a number of organizations in the Black community to increase awareness about the ACA and get people enrolled in health care plans.

Enroll America will support events aimed at young Blacks at community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities. The group has also partnered with youth ministers across the nation to promote health insurance coverage and programming designed to get young Blacks enrolled. Enroll America has also designed outreach and health insurance education programs for Black Muslims.

At a conference in Washington, D.C. last week, Enroll America announced a partnership with the National Medical Association, a group of more than 37,000 Black doctors, to promote new, affordable health insurance coverage and to provide information on healthy living in the Black community. Enroll America and the NMA will expand outreach efforts already in place, working with Black religious denominations and “will focus on the 11 states that have large numbers of African Americans and others who are uninsured,” according to a press release. The states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

Dr. Michael LeNoir, president of the National Medical Association, said that the partnership with Enroll America’s faith-based initiative just extends the relationship Black doctors have had with churches in the Black community for more than 100 years.

“The churches in the African American community play a pivotal role in informing people about the Affordable Care Act and encouraging them to enroll for health coverage,” said LeNoir in a press release about the partnership with Enroll America’s faith-based initiative. “Our partnership with the faith community will provide our physicians with the opportunity to help the uninsured understand the long–term ramifications of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”

The ACA made it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing condition, a provision that is disproportionately beneficial to Blacks who suffer higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS and certain cancers than their White counterparts.

Black males lead all groups in cancer-related deaths and Black females die from cancer at great rates than other women.

More than 20 percent of Blacks under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance. According to a recent poll by Enroll America nearly 70 percent of uninsured Blacks didn’t know that financial assistance is available to help pay for health insurance.

According to a December 2013 report by the Department of Health and Human Services, six in 10 uninsured African Americans may qualify either for tax credits to purchase coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace or for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If all states expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA, that figure would jump to 95 percent.

The problem is that most eligible, uninsured Blacks live in southern states that refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA.

According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 80 percent of people that fall in the coverage gap, live in the South And Southern states account for nearly half of all states that failed to expand Medicaid coverage. This move by state lawmakers, most of them Republican, will have a disproportionate effect on the health outcomes of millions of Blacks.

Ten percent of all eligible, uninsured Blacks live in Florida. Texas and Georgia each account for another 9 percent of uninsured Blacks that would qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, if those states chose to expand the program.

According to the report by the Health Department, “The greater Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Detroit metropolitan areas are home to one-fifth (21 percent) of eligible uninsured African Americans.”

Those who choose not to sign up for a health insurance plan by March 31 will incur a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their yearly household income, whichever is higher. A family of four could pay up to $285 in penalties if no one in the household is covered. If a person doesn’t ’t have health insurance in 2015, the penalty jumps to $325 per person or 2 percent of their yearly income.

Some people may be exempt from paying the fine, including those who go without insurance for less than three months of the year, people who don’t file a tax return because their income is too low or if the lowest-price coverage is more than 8 percent of a family’s household.

Others will qualify for a “hardship” exemption include homeless people, those who faced an eviction or filed for bankruptcy in the last six months and, in some cases, or victims of domestic violence. A complete list of exemptions and how to file for one is available at the HealthCare.gov. website. Questions can also be answered by calling 1-800-318-2596.

Etoy Ridgnal, director of African American Engagement and Faith Based Initiatives for Enroll America, said, “Folks should take the time to act now, go to a local community health center, local hospitals, local Urban League or the local NAACP office. Help is everywhere and it’s easily accessible, so there’s no reason that folks should not take this opportunity to get enrolled.”

New Studies Shatter Myths about Black Cohabitation and Marriage

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Decades of research and the warnings of Black mothers everywhere are being challenged by an emerging body of research that finds no link between cohabitation and chance of divorce. Further, researchers are asserting that cohabitation actually boosts the stability of resulting marriages for women who typically have lower marital rates – such as Black women.

As one study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Families asserts, “…the positive association between cohabitation with commitment, and marital stability existed only among select subgroups of women who faced greater risks of dissolution (i.e., women who were Black, had a premarital birth, had less than a college degree, were raised in single or stepparent families, or had more than the median number of sex partners).”

According to Census data, married couples lead 28.5 percent of African American households. Many Black couples choose to share their lives before they are willing or able to make it official. This is particularly true for low-income couples that find cohabitation economically convenient, or as a solution to unexpected economic problems.

Between 2006 and 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics surveyed more than 12,000 women on their cohabitation experiences. In the survey, Black women had 51 percent chance of cohabiting by age 25. Between 1995 and 2010, the study reported a 39 percent increase in cohabitation as a first union for Black women.

By three years of cohabiting, 31 percent of Black women had transitioned to marriage, while another 41 percent continued living with their partner.

As recently as five years ago, researchers would have guessed that most of these marriages would eventually fail. But a series of white papers, released this month by the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), finds that length of the relationship, age at cohabitation, and circumstances leading to cohabitation are better predictors of future marital misfire than cohabitation itself.

In fact, age can be such a strong predictor of marital success that it can override other relationship risks.

For example, one CCF researcher, Evelyn Lehrer, finds that women who delay marriage—past 23 years old, but ideally into the 30s and 40s—tend to enter unconventional, but stable marriages. In her work, unconventional marriages included couples with differing races (as well as different religions, education or economic levels, or previously-married men).

African Americans in general, but African American women in particular, have low rates of intermarriage. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2010, only 17 percent of all African American newlyweds had married out—9 percent of Black women wed a non-Black spouse, compared to 24 percent of Black men.

“These [unconventional, later-in-life] marriages have two advantages,” Lehrer continues. “One is that each person has greater economic resources by that time…and also, they are more mature at later ages. We found a lot of solid unions in these marriages. They are making better choices [for partners].”

Cohabitation has the best effect on marriage stability for women who are engaged first, then cohabit; according to the Journal study, their risk of separation or divorce is even lower than that of women who don’t cohabit.

Furthermore, the CCF’s data asserts that the link between pre-marital cohabitation and divorce rates has been overblown, if it ever existed at all.

“Studies have consistently overstated the risk of premarital cohabitation, and continue to do so even for marriages formed since the mid-1990s. This is because they have been comparing couples by their age at marriage rather than by their age when they moved in together,” says Arielle Kuperberg, another researcher on the CCF project. “My study finds that when couples are compared by the age at which they move in together and start taking on the roles associated with marriage, there is no difference in divorce rates between couples that lived together before marriage and those that didn’t.”

Stephanie Coontz, historian and co-chair and director of Research and Public Education for the CCF, points to Australia for insight into this current cultural shift. Fifty years of research there also painted a picture of cohabitation as the harbinger of separation and divorce—up to the late 1980s, when the trend reversed so much that cohabitation actually bolstered marital stability.

“Divorce rates were much lower than they are today, partly because marriages in that era were based on predefined, rigid gender roles. Both parties knew exactly what was expected of them. It was much easier to figure out how to make a marriage work than it is today, when there is so much more to negotiate,” Coontz says in the series’ conclusion statement. “Now that prior cohabitation is the normative route to marriage, and especially now that marriage requires more negotiation skills and deeper friendship than the past, the United States may well follow the same pattern that researchers found in Australia. Who knows what other old rules may be shattered in the next few years?”

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