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STEM Education Gap Threatens American Economic Success

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – At a time when 6.7 percent unemployment (or, 11.9 percent among African Americans) is an improvement, the STEM sector still has more available jobs than qualified American professionals. And according to a study released last week, the United States’ will halt its economic success unless the racial gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is addressed.

The report, STEM Urgency: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education in an Increasingly Unequal and Competitive World, examines the inadequacy of STEM education, particularly among African Americans and Latinos, and how that inadequacy impacts U.S. economic power. The paper is presented by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think-tank dedicated to research and policy analysis on issues affecting African Americans and other people of color.

The Joint Center also convened a panel last week to introduce the paper and discuss its findings.

According to the report, just 17 percent of degreed and employed Black professionals hold a STEM degree. In the field itself, African Americans make up just 3.9 percent of the ranks of all science and engineering occupations. White STEM professionals hold 71.8 percent of these jobs.

“While these trends are troubling for the nation overall, a disproportionate number of people of color—particularly African Americans and Hispanics—are even further away from becoming STEM-literate and having the ability to thrive in a hyper-competitive, global marketplace,” the report states. “Closing the gap in college graduation rates for African Americans and Hispanics could add a significant number of people to the workforce able to do jobs that require advanced skills and are in high-growth areas of the economy.”

Once the global pinnacle of innovation, the United States now ranks 47th in math and science education quality, according to the World Economic Forum. This dearth in quality STEM education and professional training has resulted in a few widespread problems.

For starters, students of color (excluding Asians)—even those who have the interest in and access to STEM training—tend to be discouraged from continuing their studies. The report points to a 2012 White House council study, which found that high-performing students consider available coursework “uninspiring.” It also found that 40 percent of the 1,226 female, African American, Hispanic and American Indian chemists and chemical engineers surveyed had had a teacher or employer discourage them at some point.

This discouragement is reflected in higher education. According to the report, if the proportion of Black and Hispanic students who earned science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2010 had been raised to the same rate as Asian science and engineering grads, 48,000 more graduates would have entered the STEM field that year alone. Additionally, the gaps in STEM education also have implications on employment. The national unemployment rate has been above five percent since the recession, peaking at 10.2 percent in 2009—or nearly 16 percent for African Americans. Meanwhile, jobs that depend on STEM skills will grow 17 percent in the next four years. As the study explains, “Individuals and families left behind might earn their way to better standards of living—but only if they have the skills to compete in a global economy. That is the opportunity STEM presents, in that STEM education gives people the wherewithal for employment in jobs that pay well.” For this reason, Joseph Miller, co-author of the study and deputy director and senior policy counsel of the Joint Center’s Media and Technology Institute, believes adults already in the workforce also need access to STEM training. “We need to talk about K-12 education and those investments have to be made, but we also need to put an eye toward lifelong learning,” he says. “We are culturally pessimistic about the versatility of the American worker.” That idea may be reflected in the influx of foreign-born skilled workers. Tech companies have had such trouble filling their ranks that they routinely hire via “temporary workers in specialty occupation” (H-1B) visas. According to the study, more than a third (35.6 percent) of all foreign-born Americans aged 25 and older with a science and/or engineering degree were born in India, China, or the Philippines. Also, the Obama Administration is currently seeking to strengthen the nation’s ability to attract overseas talent through administrative reforms in the Department of Homeland Security. In short, African Americans and Latinos represent a large pool of American potential talent that isn’t being developed. And with changing demographics—the Census predicts that the nation will be majority-minority by 2043—this underdevelopment will continue to hinder the nation’s ability to compete globally. “We’re talking about the implications on the future of our country,” Miller says. “We’re talking about building infrastructure, we’re talking about cybersecurity; we need Americans working on these things. And if we’re not investing in the communities that are going to be the majority, it’s foolhardy of us.” The study shies away from making specific recommendations, but does state that possible solutions will require public-private partnerships and investments. The authors hope their research will also be used to create effective legislation. “It’s a complicated problem, but it’s complicated not because we don’t know what works.” Miller explains. “It’s complicated for political reasons. We wish we had all the answers, but research will shed light on how policy should be designed.”

Black Unemployment Rises to 12.1 Percent

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate increased from 11.9 percent in December to 12.1 percent in January, according the Department of Labor’s latest monthly report.

At 12.1 percent the Black unemployment rate is nearly double the national unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Black men over 20 years old jumped from 11.5 percent in December 2013 to 12 percent in January, compared to White men who experienced a decrease in their unemployment rate from 5.6 percent in December 2013 to 5.4 percent in January.

The jobless rate for Black women over 20 years old didn’t change from December to January, staying flat at 10.4 percent, compared to White women who saw their unemployment rate tick down from 5.3 percent in December to 5.2 percent in January.

Young Blacks, 16-19 years-old, continue to suffer the highest rate of unemployment among all worker groups at 38 percent. The jobless rate for Whites in the same age group is 17.5 percent. Many economists believe that lack of job experience during their teenage years, hinders Blacks from learning crucial job skills at a young age, stunting any future job prospects.

The labor force participation rate, the number of people who are either employed or looking for work, rose for all adult worker groups. In a statement on the jobs report, U.S. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez noted the increase in the labor force participation rate and the slowly shrinking unemployment rate as signs of economic progress in the flailing economy.

That progress has not trickled down to the Black community, where the jobless rate for Blacks is nearly twice the national average. The labor force participation rate also increased among Blacks, which may indicate that more Blacks were looking for jobs in January, but hadn’t found one.

Last Thursday, Republican senators buried a deal that would have extended unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans. Perez said that Congress remains a roadblock to progress.

On a post on the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities website Chad Stone, the center’s chief economist, wrote that, “Families rely on unemployment benefits to meet basic needs like food, health care, and housing while they look for work.”

Stone continued: “If Congress doesn’t restart the [long-term unemployment benefits], the number of affected workers will continue to climb each week, reaching 4.9 million by the end of the year.”

Stone wrote that jobless benefits go to people that spend the money quickly which has a positive effect on the overall economy.

“In fact, without the consumer spending that those benefits generated, the Great Recession would have been even deeper and the recovery even slower,” wrote Stone.

In an effort to find ways to spur job growth, last week, the Congressional Black Caucus announced plans to create a “Full Employment Caucus.” The caucus will “host expert economists and policymakers to discuss proven job-creation proposals and implement strategies for their adoption.”

In a statement on the creation of the caucus penned by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), the CBC members implored lawmakers to make job creation a top priority.

According to a report by the Macroeconomic Advisers, an independent economic research, partisan gridlock and budget cuts have stripped $700 billion from the economy and slashed 2 million jobs from the labor force.

“Achieving full employment isn’t only about helping jobless people. When we return to full employment, investors and businesspeople have more customers. When we return to full employment, workers have power to bargain for higher wages,” the statement said.

The CBC statement continued: “Finally, when we return to full employment, crime declines as desperate people gain a paycheck and a purpose.”

Black Staffers Battle Racism and Discrimination at World Bank

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By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

For more than seven years, Yonas Biru has been fighting the World Bank.

The Ethiopian native and Silver Spring, Md., resident said he’s learned the hard way the price of being black at the venerable institution.

Biru, a married father of three, says the World Bank dismissed him because he challenged his bosses when they passed him over for a promotion. He was punished, he said, for refusing to accept the racist and discriminatory treatment commonly meted out to blacks by the Bank’s managers and supervisors.

“I came to the U.S. with $12 in my pocket. I had to work at a hotel as a room service waiter to finance my education,” Biru said. “There were some winters when I couldn’t buy shoes because I had to buy books, pay for my education. Now I have no professional identity. They stole it.

“Nobody’s going to question that the World Bank would do something like this. If you look in the public domain, they say everything I say is an exaggeration,” he said. “When I asked the bank to give me my employment records, they refused. They signed, sealed and archived my records seven years ago. I cannot write a curriculum vita saying I was a manager.”

Biru said he fled Ethiopia because his mother was a close relative of former Emperor Haile Selassie and their lives were in danger as the communist government that overthrew the monarchy in 1974 murdered and imprisoned royals, nobility and perceived opponents.

“I thought I was coming to a land of opportunity, work hard, succeed. I worked so hard, for so long, got a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and worked for the Bank,” Biru said.

The abrupt and bitter end to his World Bank career proved to be a deep contrast to the excitement and promise the job once engendered.

“I joined the Bank in 1993,” he said. “And in 1999, I was appointed to reform a program that was dying. At the time, the International Comparison Program (ICP) was one of the most important in the Bank. A United Nations committee investigated the program and saw the need for an organizational, institutional, operational, financial and meteorological overhaul. The Bank called the director and she gave me the job.”

“She said we don’t have resources, but if the programs died, I’d lose my job. I knew I could turn it around with her support. It was a one-man shop but by 2002, I had turned it around. We had hubs in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. I was getting perfect evaluations just short of saying I walked on water.”

“From 2001 to 2009, Biru said he managed research in critical areas that stabilized and strengthened the ICP. He also developed and coordinated ICP regional programs in Asia, Latin America, and Western Asia. Biru racked up frequent flier miles meeting with and encouraging partners in farflung parts of the world to participate in the program, and for seven years, he said he managed fundraising and was responsible for expanding the scope of the program’s global partnership.

Angelou's Tribute to Mandela to be Soon Published as Book

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Maya Angelou’s moving tribute to fallen South African leader Nelson Mandela, called “His Day Is Done,” will be preserved in book format just in time for Black History Month.

“I’m delighted, honored, pleased and just over the moon,” Angelou told theAFRO of Random House’s decision to publish the slim tome.

When news of Mandela’s declining health first made headlines nearly two years ago, Angelou said she was contacted by the U.S. State Department and asked to write a tribute to the beloved African leader on behalf of the American people. They wanted to be prepared for his possible death, they said, and asked her to keep the request and the poem secret until at least 48 hours after his passing.

“I knew President Mandela; we had met 50 years ago in Egypt [and] over the years we had developed a close friendship [and] we had great respect and affection for each other,” the acclaimed poet recalled. “It was very hard to write about this person who I liked and adored as if he were dead.”

But she set herself to the task—pouring the thoughts, memories and feelings in her heart and head onto the page before snipping and tucking them into poetic form.

As the wife of South African freedom fighter Vusumzi L. Make of the Pan African Congress, Angelou was often present at gatherings of Mandela and other activists—who were a rowdy lot, she said.

“But among those loud, boisterous voices he [Mandela] was as gentle…and he was generous,” she said. “He spoke to everybody; he had time and a kind word for everybody from the doorman to the housekeeper.”

She hailed his strength, writing in the poem that Mandela was the world’s “David armed with a mere stone, facing down the mighty Goliath” of apartheid. And, after 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island, this “hope of Africa” burst through the prison doors with “His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.”

She honored his grace, which he demonstrated when he gave his former jailers seats of distinction at his inauguration.

“I think that was one of his great gifts to us—he taught us how to forgive,” Angelou said. “He was a great friend to the world.”

Car Loans from Dealers Higher for Blacks

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Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – When the Simpsons went to buy a new car husband Harry felt comfortable that his negotiating skills would get them a decent interest rate.

“I’m a sales rep so I’m negotiating all day with clients. I felt like I could get us a good interest rate and a good deal,” he told The Final Call.

But those skills didn’t work. With relatively good credit, they were still only offered a double digit interest rate. Feeling offended they got up and walked out.

“I felt really strange about the deal. I didn’t think we were getting the best offer we could. Our credit was decent, we had a sizeable down payment and still they offered us a double digit interest,” said Kendra Simpson.

The Simpsons are not alone. A new report by the Center for Responsible Lending found that Blacks and Latinos pay higher interest rates on dealer-financed car loans than White buyers, even though people of color report more attempts to negotiate a better deal.

The report found that 39 percent of Latinos and 32 percent of Blacks reported attempts to negotiate their interest rate, compared to only 22 percent of White respondents—yet buyers of color continually received higher interest rates.

The report, “Non-Negotiable: Negotiation Doesn’t Help African Americans and Latinos on Dealer-Financed Car Loans,” is based on information collected from 946 consumers in a detailed telephone survey conducted in October 2012. The results are consistent with longstanding findings of racial and ethnic discrimination in the auto lending industry.

“As long as dealers can manipulate interest rates, car loans are a gamble for consumers,” said Chris Kukla, Center for Responsible Lending senior vice president. “Car buyers can do their best to negotiate, but they are at the mercy of dealers whose compensation is tied to hidden interest rate increases. That’s a formula for abuse.”

The three factors the study found that can add unnecessary costs to car loans by dealers are: Hidden dealer increases in the interest rate (markups), misleading sales information, and add-on products like insurance and warranties.

Car buyers of color were much more likely to report receiving misleading information about their car loans, and they were nearly twice as likely as White consumers to be sold multiple add-on products.

“Here’s what you have to remember when buying a car, you have to look at the integrity of the organization that is selling the car. You have dealers and you have those say ‘buy here, pay here.’ They are notorious for robbing people,” experienced auto broker Jamil Muhammad told The Final Call. He currently works for a national auto corporation. “Some places will request a down payment and then a down payment for tags, title and taxes. White people only pay one down payment. Know what the existing interest rates are before you go. Blemished credit affects your interest rate. Whites operate from a household worth of nearly $100,000. Blacks generally operate from a household worth of less than $5,000. That makes a difference.”

The report discusses current dealer business practices and incentives that encourage discriminatory pricing on car loans, such as interest rate markups that car dealers than receive as compensation.

These markups are hidden; consumers typically have no idea that dealers can add to their compensation by increasing interest rates. In addition, dealers also increase consumer costs by selling add-on products, like extended warranties, rust proofing and paint protection programs.

“There is also financial redlining in some areas. They only offer the best interest rates to people who live in certain zip codes. Ask the financial officer about the interest rate they are offering and why yours is so high. Above all remember, the car business has lots of crooks in it. You have to watch them,” said Mr. Muhammad.

The survey found dealers sold Blacks and Latinos multiple add-ons 30 percent and 27 percent of the time, respectively, versus only 16 percent of the time for Whites.

The Simpsons have become more educated shoppers. They are not just looking for a new car anymore.

“We are looking for the dealer or even a credit union that can give us the best rate for our money and credit. Desire for a new car is no longer shopping, our educated minds are doing the shopping now. We know we can do better,” said Mr. Simpson.

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