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Blacks Continue Fight to Secure Voting Rights

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When lawmakers ratified the 15th Amendment in 1870, protecting voting rights for Blacks, opponents of the law lashed out, violently at times, employing literacy tests, poll taxes, and fraud in an effort to disenfranchise the new voters. It would be nearly 100 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed many of those practices, ushering in a “new era in American democracy.”

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on the economic conditions of low- and middle income families, chronicles past struggles and highlight current roadblocks that attempt to dilute the Black vote.

The report titled, “Voting Rights at a Crossroads” is the latest in the Unfinished March series that looks at the ambitious goals of the 1963 March on Washington and the work that is still needed to accomplish those goals.

According to the report, just one year before the historic march less than 30 percent of voting-aged Blacks were registered to vote in 11 states in the south, where most Blacks lived. A year later, Blacks still faced significant hardships exercising their right to vote.

“In 1964, in the five southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, only 22.5 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered to vote,” stated the report. “Particularly troubling, in Mississippi, only 5.1 percent of voting-age African Americans were registered, compared with 94.9 percent of whites.”

The abysmal voter registration record for Blacks was due largely in part to the discrimination that Blacks faced, often at the hands of state and local officials.

Despite a number of federal laws crafted to bolster voter protections under the 15th amendment, state and local officials continued a concerted effort to prevent Blacks from voting, including limiting or changing the registration period, requiring Blacks to get references from Whites to register, literacy tests and poll taxes.

When poor Whites complained about some of the laws that limited their voting rights, many states passed “grandfather” clauses that allowed White citizens, who were eligible to vote before the restrictive laws were passed, to continue to vote. The grandfather clauses extended to their descendants and excluded Blacks.

The report said that the success of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom inspired civil rights leaders to push for better voting protections under the law.

“The idea appealed to the civil rights leaders of the day, and the resulting March for Jobs and Freedom refueled the civil rights movement’s resolve to pass a voting rights law that delivered on the promise of voting rights for all,” stated the report. “The over 200,000 marchers who converged on the mall in Washington, D.C., were fully aware that the right to vote was inextricably tied to overcoming the socioeconomic problems they endured.”

The report continued: “Their determined campaign resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, seminal pieces of legislation that transformed American democracy.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape and voting in the United States in ways that the 15th amendment couldn’t. It banned the use of “tests and devices” with Section 2 and installed federal voting officials and observers at polling places.

“The Voting Rights Act also contains temporary provisions, including the Section 4 coverage formula and the Section 5 “preclearance provision,” which required that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination (as determined by a “coverage formula”) obtain federal approval before implementing any voting change. At first the coverage formula applied to Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and 40 counties in North Carolina,” stated the report.

For decades state and local jurisdictions with the most egregious voting rights violations were forced to pre-clear changes in voting laws. Black voter registration grew. Now nearly 70 percent of voting-aged Blacks are registered. In the 2012 presidential election, Black voter turnout topped White voter turnout for the first time in our nation’s history. More than 66 percent of eligible Black voters went to the polls compared to about 64 percent of registered White voters.

The Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder cleared the path for Republican state legislators to pass new laws that threaten to disenfranchise minority voters. When the Supreme Court stripped section 4 of the Voting Right’s Act of 1965, effectively ending protections that voters had under section 5, voters were left virtually to fend for themselves, as politicians launched voting laws restrictive voting laws making it tougher for the young, the old, the poor and minorities to vote.

According to the report, “North Carolina’s legislature passed laws that restricted the types of photo identification used in order to vote, shortened early voting, ended same-day voter registration, and prohibited preregistration that allowed high school students to register to vote before their 18th birthday.”

Many southern states led by GOP lawmakers have launched voter ID laws to fight non-existent voter fraud.

“The most common example of the harm wrought by imprecise and inflated claims of ‘voter fraud’ is the call for in-person photo identification requirements. Such photo ID laws are effective only in preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the poll – an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning,” stated the Brennan Center report.

In Florida, state lawmakers “reinstated a program to purge voters,” a faulty program that was blocked by earlier lawsuits.

The report called on citizens to contact members of Congress and to urge them to pass new legislation that would restore section 4 of the VRA and reinvigorate the voter protections under section 5.

“The civil rights community and the public must now apply a heightened level of vigilance to ensure that the gains of the past 50 years are not lost, and to continue the historic trajectory of ensuring access to the ballot for all eligible voters,” stated the report.

The report continued: “Citizens must become engaged in their communities and ensure that their elected officials are aware that they are being watched and that attempts to roll back hard-fought gains will not be tolerated.”

Affordable Care Act Will Create More Jobs

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Health care reform under the Affordable Care Act is off to a sickly start. There have been problems with the main marketplace website, calls for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ resignation, tepid enrollment numbers, and a series of presidential apologies.

But there’s some good news amid all the bad: A new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies says a health care employment boom is on the horizon, riding in on the coattails of the embattled Affordable Care Act.

According to the report, Affordable Care Act of 2010: Creating Job Opportunities for Racially and Ethnically Diverse Populations, the health care sector could add 4.6 million jobs over the next decade – a 31 percent increase in the industry.

“The goal of this report is to provide knowledge that can help foster and enhance racial/ethnic diversity of the health care workforce,” the authors write. “If we assume the current racial and ethnic distribution of the health care workforce persists, we would expect that in the future at least one-third of the total health care workforce will comprise people of color [emphasis theirs].”

As of last month, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 12.7 percent. At the same time, total unemployment within the health care industry was at 4.2 percent. Currently, Black professionals make up 15 percent of the health care workforce, most of them registered nurses, nursing aides, orderlies, and home care attendants.

Health care offers a high level of job security. Even without the ACA, the industry will continue to expand, as it has for decades. In fact, the industry was one of the few that continued to grow and hire during the Great Recession (in 2009 its unemployment rate was 5.3 percent; the national rate peaked at 10 percent that year, and 16.1 percent for African Americans). With the graying of America, continued widespread chronic illness, and the ACA’s impact on hiring rates, the demand for health care professionals is poised to escalate.

Medical positions involving office and emergency visits are expected to flourish most. By 2020, the report predicts an influx of 711,900 registered nurses alone. Nursing aides, medical administrators, pharmacy and some medical technicians,(such as those who draw blood or operate x-ray machines, will also be in demand.

The ACA will be responsible for a third of the growth in these jobs.

To properly determine how much growth could be attributed to the law, the authors examine job trends and statistics from a few data-collecting agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also use simulation software created specifically for the health industry to make projections. Based on the resulting data, the ACA is going to change the industry in two ways.

The first is through increased access, which will make primary and preventative maintenance popular and prevalent. Secondly, the mandates for insurance companies, and incentives for wellness programs, will create a ripple effect in which health care providers must accommodate new rules and methods.

To accommodate these new patients, rules, and methods, hospitals and doctors’ offices will need to hire more people.

“The number of jobs available does not necessarily equal the number of qualified individuals available to fill these positions…”. the authors write. “In order to ensure an adequate supply of new health workers, education and training programs will need to maintain their sizes and possibly need to grow.”

A few high schools across the country have, or are, magnet programs for budding health professionals. The study also notes that some health care providers are offering their lower-skilled employees an opportunity to gain qualifications through on-the-job training, or through partnerships with vocational programs.

Not all segments of the health care profession will expand.

For example, there are enough physicians and surgeons at the moment (although African Americans only make up 1.5 percent of the ranks), according to the study. Demand for clinical lab techs (the people who examine and test patient samples) is also expected to stagnate. Dental hygienists are also already well accounted for (not to be confused with dental assistants, who will become more essential under the ACA).

Demand for home and long-term care specialists will likely remain unaffected.

The study gives policy suggestions to help capitalize on the pending industry growth. Each of the suggestions advocates support for educational, vocational, or professional development opportunities through career counseling, robust funding, and/or employer sponsorship.

Research shows that maximizing the opportunity for people of color to pursue health careers is associated with greater quality and access to care for all. The study also cites research that links health care job gains to better at-large job opportunities for people of color.

As the writers explain, “Policies and strategies to maximize the capacity of the population to pursue growing career opportunities and provide needed services will be essential to ensure better health outcomes in the United States.”

Study: Having Access to Excellent Teachers is Civil Right

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A new study suggests that access to “excellent teachers” should be a civil right and that students should be able to “take legal action” to get better results.

The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, partnered with Public Impact on the report that recommends a number of federal policy reforms designed to increase the influence of excellent teachers in American classrooms. Public Impact is a research and advocacy group focused on the educational needs of underserved students.

“Excellent teachers – those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress – produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students,” stated CAP/PI joint study.

The study found that one way to ensure that the highest-performing teachers instructed more students would be to make it a federal law.

“If schools and districts do not provide such a child with an excellent teacher, the child should be empowered to take legal action to enforce the right,” stated the report. “Legislating a new civil right to excellent teachers obligates federal and state governments to enforce what should be a fundamental guarantee.”

For poor students who often inherit poorly-trained teachers in poverty-stricken schools, getting access to excellent teachers could mean the difference in educational outcomes that have wide-ranging consequences for the economy.

According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 43 percent of Black children under age five live in poverty. The Children’s Defense Fund reported that about one in five Black children survive life in extreme poverty in 2012 compared to one in 18 White children.

Schools with a 90 percent White student body outspent 90 percent minority schools by $733 per student. A CAP report on public school spending estimated that those funds could pay for nine veteran teachers or technology upgrades and resource staffers.

As the United States grows ever-dependent on a well-educated, diverse workforce, the need to fix the academic achievement gap becomes even more critical. By 2050, Blacks and Hispanics will account for 42 percent of the labor force.

“Had we closed the academic-performance gaps of African American and Hispanic students in 2008, the United States would have gained between $310 billion and $525 billion in gross domestic product, or GDP,” stated a CAP brief on the school-readiness gap and preschool benefits for minorities.

According to the brief, in less than five years, one will need an associate’s degree or better to work in almost half (45 percent) of all jobs in the U.S., a rung on the education ladder that nearly 75 percent of Blacks haven’t reached.

Closing the achievement gap will take innovative strategies and great teachers.

The CAP/PI joint study found that “children who start out one year behind their peers can close the achievement gap if they have excellent teachers two years in a row.”

The study continued: “Children starting out two years behind can pull even with their peers if they have excellent teachers four years in a row.”

Without that year in and year out exposure to great teaching, students that fall behind often never recover.

Researchers from the University of London and University of Málaga in Spain found that raising teacher pay leads to greater competition in the job market and elevated professional status across the nation.

According to researchers, making the teaching profession “substantially more attractive” would also mean rewarding innovation in education with increased funding for highly successful classroom models, updating qualifications of current grants to address the needs of a diverse student population, and focusing on research and development in education at the federal level.

The CAP/PI joint study noted that the research and development budget for education is woefully underfunded compared to other government agencies.

“The Department of Defense spends $70 billion per year on research and development, while the Department of Education spends less than $1 billion, not even a quarter of a percent of the total education budget,” stated the report.

The federal government accounts for 10 percent of all of the money spent on educating our nation’s students. State and local groups cover the rest of the tab and direct critical policy changes. The joint study argues that federal government needs to get more involved.

“Federal policy changes to support state and local education agencies in providing all students with excellent teaching could flip the odds students now face,” stated the report. “That kind of consistent access to great teaching is just what students need to succeed in school, college, and, most importantly, life.”

HPV Vaccines Less Effective for Black Women

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although Black women are twice as likely as White women to die from cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination may not prevent cervical cancer in African American women, according to a new study.

The available vaccines only protect against four strains of HPV, which, according to this study from the Duke University School of Medicine, African American women are half as likely as White women to carry.

The American Cancer Society expects more than 12,000 women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year alone. Incidence rates have been falling for all women as screenings have become more routine, but the rate of infection for Black women is the second highest (after Latinas) – and it’s still 39 percent higher than their White counterparts.

Black women have been significantly more likely than any other group to die from cervical cancer.

The study examined 280 Black women and 292 White women, all carrying varying HPV strains – some had no signs of cancer, some showed mild signs of pre-cancer, and a small percentage had advanced precancerous abnormalities. In the group with the most advanced signs of pre-cancer, White participants carried strains 16, 18, 33, 39, and 59, whereas Black participants carried strains 31, 35, 45, 56, 58, 66, and 68.

Currently, two vaccines on the market target four HPV strains considered most troublesome. Gardasil, which is produced by Merck and can be administered to anyone age 9 through 26, protects against strains 16, 18, 6, and 11. Cervarix, by GlaxoSmithKline, is available only for girls and women and targets strains 16 and 18. (The vaccines also protect against less-common genital cancers in both men and women).

“Compared with white women, we saw that African-American women had about half as many infections with HPV 16 and 18, the subtypes that are covered by HPV vaccines,” said study co-author, Adriana Vidal. “Since African-American women don’t seem to be getting the same subtypes of HPV with the same frequency, the vaccines aren’t helping all women equally.”

The vaccines are based on these strains because strains 16 and 18 are found in 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, while strains 6 and 11 are associated with 90 percent of genital warts cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, studies have a long-documented history of overlooking the need for diverse participants in pharmaceutical and medical trials.

HPV is a common virus that is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact. It is possible to have HPV without knowing it, so it is possible to unknowingly spread HPV to another person, according to the CDC.

There are more than 100 strains of the human papillomavirus and they can affect several parts of the body. Most strains are minor threats to a healthy immune system, which can naturally terminate an infection over time. Though the virus can cause warts, most people who become infected exhibit no symptoms.

More than 40 strains of HPV are specifically passed through sex. It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, and the Center for Disease Control says that most sexually active people will contract at least one type in their lifetime.

Duke University’s study is limited by its sample size. But if it reflects a larger trend: African American women are much less likely as White women to carry these forms of the virus and are thus less protected from the cancers they cause.

Many researchers have been closely following the data to see if the vaccines are actually affecting HPV infection rates.

A study published this past June 2013 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases has compared HPV rates among girls age 14 through 19 from before Gardasil hit shelves (2003-2006), and after (2007-2010). Between the time periods, infection rates were cut in half for strains 16 and 18, nearly eliminated for strains 6 and 11, and trimmed for milder, less common strains. The results are being touted as proof that the vaccines are indeed curbing HPV among teens, and by extension, will curb cervical cancer in the future.

But for whom?

In the case of high-risk strains that aren’t covered by the vaccine – such as 35, 66, and 68, the strains most prevalent in Black women – the report states the decline was too miniscule to be statistically relevant. These strains aren’t even pictured on the study’s dramatic-looking bar graph. To be fair, though, the low-risk strains prevalent in Black women also saw major declines.

This study’s population was reflective of American demographics. Additionally, sexually active, unvaccinated girls were included – 20 percent were African American, 56 percent White, and 23 percent “Other.”

Neither Merck nor GlaxoSmithKline has addressed the lack of coverage for HPV strains prevalent in African American women, though neither company has ever addressed public and legislative controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine.

Merck is currently testing an updated HPV vaccine that fights nine dangerous strains instead of four (6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58). Although their preliminary study results are promising, the disparity will likely remain.

“The most disconcerting part of this new vaccine is it doesn’t include HPV 35, 66 and 68, three of the strains of HPV of which African-American women are getting the most,” said study co-author, Cathrine Hoyo. “We may want to rethink how we develop these vaccines, given that African-Americans tend to be underrepresented in clinical trials.”

First MLK's Kids, Now the Heirs of Malcolm X Are Headed to Court

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Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

Family members of Malcolm X have filed suit to prevent the publication of the slain leader’s diary.

At issue is the diary Malcolm X kept during the year before his assassination, as he traveled through the Middle East and Africa. The diary has been reproduced for publication and lists the daughter of Malcolm X, Ilyasah Shabazz, as an editor. Other family members, however, are filing suit, alleging that the publisher, Third World Press, does not own the rights to the diary.

Vice President of Third World Press, Bennett Johnson, contradicts the family’s claim and says the publisher has a contract signed by one of Malcolm X’s daughters.

A video promoting the publication of the diary shows the daughter of Malcolm X discussing the importance of the diary been added to the body of work already produced by Malcolm X.

“It’s really beautiful that we get to see Malcolm in his own voice – without scholars, historians or observers saying what he was thinking or what he was doing or what he meant” Shabazz says.

Third World Press says the memoir “described deep emotional connections [Malcolm X] developed during a period that was constantly colored by his prophetic sense of impending tragedy”. They also promote the diary as having a “unique” blueprint for African-Americans.

The diary is scheduled to be published on November 14, but court papers filed by the heirs of Malcolm X in Manhattan court could delay or even prevent publication.

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