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Transportation Industry: A Route to Success for Black Men

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When Jeffrey Brooks began his career in the transportation industry, the encouraging words of his parents echoed in his ears: “Go get a good job, a good job that you can retire from with a pension.”

Now, 30 years later, Brooks, the administrative vice-president and director of the Transit Division for Transport Workers Union of America, hopes that message is not getting lost on millions of unemployed young Black men living in urban reas across the nation.

As Americans continue to climb out of the Great Recession inch-by-inch, Black men endure unemployment at nearly twice the national rate. Last month, the unemployment rate for Black men was 14.1 percent. For White men, it was less than half that rate – 6.6 percent over the same period.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that studies how economic policies impact low and middle-income workers, from July 2009 to May 2012 the unemployment rate for Black men was often higher in America’s biggest cities.

EPI reported that about 25 percent of the jobs Black men lost between 2007 and 2011 occurred in the construction industry. Although Black men are often underrepresented in the construction and manufacturing industry, the transportation industry offers unique opportunities.

“EPI estimates that African Americans could obtain as much as 14 percent of all jobs created by large public transit investment projects. Blacks are only about 11 percent of the labor force, so these projects bring a slightly disproportionate benefit to black workers,” according to a brief published by the think tank.

“It’s clear that Blacks have access and a somewhat easier career path in transportation than in other industries,” said Algernon Austin, Director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at EPI.

It’s that career path that Brooks, now-retired from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, wants young Black men to focus on.

Brooks climbed the ranks at SEPTA, starting on the railroad tracks that criss-crossed Pennsylvania and advancing to a heavy equipment operator a few years later. The Philadelphia native eventually took on leadership responsibilities as section officer, chairman, vice-president, and recording secretary. Brooks became president of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 in 2004.

“It was a struggle,” Brooks said during a forum on transportation jobs hosted by EPI in September. “It wasn’t like they gave it to us. We had to fight tooth and nail to get where they were.”

As union president, Brooks fought hard to create opportunities for minorities, in the highly-skilled, high paying positions at SEPTA where Blacks are often underrepresented. Brooks worked with the city and state leaders to create internship and apprenticeship programs to expose young people, especially those living in urban areas, to careers in transportation.

“I went into the school district sat down with the mayor, the governor and other legislators and what became important was building a partnership between the school district of Philadelphia, the transit workers union and SEPTA,” Brooks said.

Brooks partnered with the Transportation Learning Center a group that creates training opportunities for the front-line workforce in the transportation industry across the nation. TLC receives funds from the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Transit Cooperative Research.

Brian J. Turner executive director of TLC said that the Labor Department is projecting 38 percent growth in employment in the transportation industry.

“Transit rail ridership is growing like crazy,” Turner said. “You also have an older workforce where 40 percent of frontline workers, the people who maintain and operate the transit system, are expected to retire in the next 10 years.”

We need to be training up that next generation, Turner added.

Unfortunately, the transportation industry has one of the lowest levels of investment in skill development of any industry, Turner said, limiting the efforts of groups like TLC.

On average, industries invest 2 percent of payroll in human capital. According to Turner, the nation’s transit systems invest between 0.6 to 0.8 percent in the development of human capital.

“Without human capital, physical capital can’t do anything useful,” said Turner. “Physical capital can’t run itself. It can’t run on time. It can’t run efficiently. It can’t operate safely without human capital.”

Turner said that with more money invested in training, TLC can implement framework national training standards, apprenticeships, systems.

Brooks said that this type of framework, similar to what is being implemented at SEPTA in Pennsylvania, that can be used as a model for other transit systems in urban areas.

Brooks admits that many people don’t see the career opportunities that the public transit system provides.

“Transit jobs are not sexy, said Brooks. “Most people just think that this is just a man driving this bus up and down the street.”

Brooks said that schools become critical in impressing upon students that public transit is somewhere that you can go to gain skills and branch out into other fields.

Austin said that students should also learn about the career mobility and income opportunities that the transportation industry.

“Hopefully, we’ll all have long lives and as you progress through life and start a family, you have kids, college tuition to pay medical expenses, etc. you need occupations that will allow you the opportunity to advance have greater income, to save and to put money away for your retirement,” Austin said.

Brooks said that it’s up to leaders in the industry, state and local officials to continue to push to make transportation careers a real opportunity for young people living in urban areas.

“What I learned a long time ago is that jobs are one year, two years and you’re gone,” Brooks said. “A career is something that I just did. Thirty years in the same employment, 30 life-sustaining years.”

Retirement Worries are Beginning at an Earlier Age

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By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When Stephen Compton graduated from Grambling State University in 2006, his goal was to begin his career working for the NFL and move up their corporate ladder.

However, just six years later he has another goal in mind – making sure he’s prepared for retirement.

“Back when I graduated, I never would have thought I’d have to worry about this now,” says Compton, who at 28 has already begun to prepare for something that won’t come for at least another 20 years.

After graduating, Compton moved back home to Houston, where his parents were speeding through their savings and retirement funds to maintain their middle-class lifestyle after being laid off within a year of one another.

Compton’s parents are not alone.

In its “State of Black America” report issued earlier this year, the National Urban League reported, “Our analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will clearly establish that whether one looks at education, income or any other meaningful measure, almost all the economic gains that blacks have made in the last 30 years have been lost in the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and in the anemic recovery that has followed since June, 2009.

“This means that the size of the black middle class is shrinking, the fruits that come from being in the black middle class are dwindling, and the ladders of opportunity for reaching the black middle class are disappearing.”

Compton has seen that up-close – and it has had an impact on him.

“Seeing my parents get to a point where they don’t have anything to retire on has made it more of a serious issue for me,” he says. “They don’t want me to have to be in this situation.”

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Compton isn’t alone in his retirement worries, even at his age. In fact, Americans are more concerned about having enough funds to last through retirement than they were in 2009, when the Great Recession was beginning to end.

Of the more than 2,500 adults surveyed by Pew, 38 percent say they are not confident that their nest eggs will last throughout retirement, a figure that jumps to 53 percent among those ages 36-40. In 2009, only 18 percent of 36-40 year-olds were showing signs of concern.

Chicago-based financial adviser Kimberly Thomas says declining wealth and rising inflation can be attributed to the widespread worry about retirement.

“A decline in wealth can have a devastating impact,” Thomas says. “I’ve seen so many clients have to post-pone retirement because of what the economy has done.”

Between 2000 and 2010, according to another analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center, the median wealth of adults 35-44 had declined by more than $56,000.

“Challenging economic times have an intense impact on 30-40-somethings because we’re used to spending as we chose and putting more emphasis on what we want,” says Thomas, who’s in her 40s. “When my parents were in their 30s, they had a different mentality—they were more interested in saving and planning for tomorrow than 30-year-olds today.”

Brandi Richard, the president of the National Urban League Young Professionals, has a different perspective.

“Our homes cost more, life costs more,” says Richard. “Most of the money coming into our paycheck is going out. There is not as much to put back for retirement.”

Thomas says that regardless of how much you’re making now, you should save at least 10 percent of every check to prepare for the future.

“When it comes to retirement, if you think about your financial future as if you’re constructing a house, you’ll need a blueprint—you need a solid plan,” Thomas says. “ You want to build your financial house upon this plan, but it starts with saving and planning.”

Compton, who set aside his dreams of being a general manager for an NFL team to take on a role as a business analyst for a Texas-based energy company, is in the midst of making plans to shape his financial future.

“The focus for me now is to eliminate all my debt, from college and some credit cards,” Compton says. “I want to build wealth for myself so that when the day comes that I can retire, I’ll be set.”

Blacks Key to Obama's Victory

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINTON (NNPA) – Despite efforts in some states to suppress the Black vote and predictions that African-Americans would not turn out at the rate they did in 2008, Blacks overcame all obstacles and were key to Obama’s re-election to a second term, an analysis of voting data shows.

Exit polls show that 93 percent of Blacks voted for Obama this year, down slightly from the 95 percent rate in 2008. But voting for all groups was down this year compared with the presidential election four years ago.

Obama carried every age bracket by at least 90 percent, but there was a gender gap among African-Americans, with 96 percent of Black women voting to re-elect the nation’s first Black president and only 87 percent of men supporting Obama. Four years ago, there was only a one-point difference separating the two groups, with women giving Obama 96 percent of their vote, compared with 95 percent for Black men.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney received only 6 percent of the Black vote, which was 2 percent higher than John McCain in 2008 but less than 11 percent achieved by George Bush in 2004 when he defeated John Kerry.

“The African American vote was crucial for President Obama in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia,” said David Bositis senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the battleground state of Ohio 50 percent to 48 percent. Blacks, who increased their share of the electorate from 11 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2012, gave 96 percent of their vote to President Obama, providing him with more than his cushion of victory.

Blacks also provided with Obama more than his margin of victory in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, all battleground states and all carried by Obama.

Obama also won 71 percent of the Latino vote, compared with 27 percent for Romney; McCain got 32 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, which was less than the 43 percent Bush received in 2004.

The Latino vote was credited with carrying Obama to victory in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. His showing among Latinos was an improvement over the 66 percent share he won four years ago.

Romney won 59 percent of the White vote, compared with 39 percent for Obama, but that was not enough to overtake Obama’s progressive coalition of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, unmarried women and low-income voters.

“[The 2012 presidential election] will be the last campaign where one of the major parties seeks to get elected solely with the White vote,” said Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Speaking at a post-election briefing on “The Impact of the African American Vote on the 2012 Presidential Election,” Bositis said that this election was a clear showing that the country is a now a multiracial, multi-ethnic country.

After losing to a president presiding over high unemployment and a sluggish economy, Republicans have been engaged in some public soul-searching, realizing that they must broaden their appeal if they want to remain competitive in national politics.

Where Republicans have effectively abandoned opportunities to appeal to Black voters, the Democratic Party effectively mobilized African Americans to combat voter suppression efforts in battleground states said Lorenzo Morris, chair of the Political Science Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“Blacks will continue to support the Democratic Party at high levels and they were definitely supportive of Obama, but I doubt that we would have seen the same level of turnout had other issues not mobilized Black voters during the election,” said Morris.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver suggested that overtly racist remarks by Republicans also fueled the heavy Black voter turnout.

Cleaver pointed to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) comparing the president to “a tar baby” in 2011, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouting “you lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 speech on health care before a joint session of Congress, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) calling for a “great white hope” for the Republican Party.

“That’s the stuff that kept Romney’s numbers low and that will keep the next Republican nominees numbers low,” said Cleaver. “What they will have to do when people make those statements is say, very openly and publicly, ‘We don’t want you in our party.’”

But that hasn’t happened. Instead former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, described the president as “lazy” and charged for former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama only because both are Black, a comment Sununu later retracted.

Although several highly visible Latinos have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2012, Congressman Cleaver said it will take more than a few Spanish-speaking candidates to alter the GOP’s direction.

Cleaver said that African Americans and Latinos should form strong political ties because it’s clear that they control the outcome of elections in certain states, including many of those deemed pivotal in winning presidential elections.

The universal support Obama saw among Black voters on Nov. 6, does not mean he will get the kind of pass he received his first term on issues important to African-Americans. In fact, Cleaver was widely criticized during Obama’s first term for saying: “If we had a White president, we’d be marching around the White House.” He said had Hillary Clinton defeated Obama and won the presidency, for example, he would have told her, “My sister, I love you, but this has got to go.”

Cleaver hinted that Obama might not be as lucky his second term, when he won’t have to run for re-election.

The Kansas City congressman said, “[Blacks] are enormously committed to President Obama and loyal to him, but many of them have complained about the deficit in attention.”

Hartsfield-Jackson Unveils New Art Exhibit: 'A Walk Through Atlanta History'

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Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World

Travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport now can explore eight decades of Atlanta’s past in “A Walk Through Atlanta History,” a unique, multimedia exhibit in the Transportation Mall between concourses B and C.

Aviation officials recently hosted a ceremony to dedicate the exhibit, which highlights several prominent Atlantans — such as former mayors Shirley Franklin, Andrew Young and Maynard H. Jackson Jr. — who played important roles in shaping the city’s history. The exhibit features large wall murals, brief videos and reader rails that highlight key periods, milestones and events.

“Hartsfield-Jackson is proud to present this visual time capsule to the world,” said Aviation General Manager Louis Miller.

“It allows travelers and art enthusiasts to trace Atlanta’s history from its humble beginnings to its emergence as an international city.”

The exhibit covers eight time frames: the pre-Colonial era through 1840; the first train stop in Atlanta; the Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta; Reconstruction and the rebuilding of Atlanta into a commerce hub; the rise of the Sweet Auburn district; Mayor William B. Hartsfield’s achievements; Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement; and Atlanta’s entry onto the global stage.

Filmmaker and exhibit creator Gary Moss envisioned an enjoyable, educational experience for people of all ages. “I was surprised to find a story as rich, poignant and ultimately inspiring as anything that I had traveled far to find,” Moss said.

Black Cubans Still Suffering from Hurricane Sandy

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Some say assistance given to white Cubans first, little for Blacks

By José Pérez
Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times

For centuries, Santiago de Cuba has been a loud and lively city nestled at the foot of mountains that meet the Caribbean Sea. Birthplace of people like Desi Arnaz, Rita Marley, and Afro-Cuban military genius Antonio Maceo, Santiago and its residents are always vibrant. It is because of this that a walk around the densely-populated city in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy indicated that something was very wrong. “Santiago is wrapped in a deafening silence of despair,” said Dr. Alberto Jones of the Caribbean American Children’s Foundation, who grew up in nearby Guantanamo and had been in Cuba visiting family and friends when the killer storm hit.

What Jones witnessed in Santiago was not limited to Cuba’s second city. He describes what he saw in places like Songo, La Maya, and Guantanamo as “horrifying, devastating, and unbelievable.” Describing the damage inflicted on Eastern Cuba as “massive,” Jones added that “hundreds of roads are blocked and overflowing rivers have washed away railroad tracks and bridges” in the area. Jones notes that 90 percent of Santiago’s residents are Black Cubans.

Ventura Figueras Lores, a reporter in Guantanamo, said that, despite obstacles, “chlorine and other disinfecting products to purify water for human consumption” are being distributed for free through the Cuban government’s pharmacy network. Both men point out that rebuilding efforts are already underway. Even nontraditional workers like older adults and children are involved with the process, says Jones.

His wife, Sylvia Jones, says such a proactive approach to hurricanes is nothing new for Cubans.

“Cuba has the best record in the Caribbean as far as casualties after storms are concerned,” she said. “Everyone knows where to go, what to do. And they don’t wait for you to evacuate — they come and pick you up.”

Death still strikes

In light of that, the Joneses and many others were devastated by the news that 11 people in Cuba alone were killed because of the storm.

“There are tens of thousands of roofless or windowless homes, schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, daycares and cultural centers that were partially or totally destroyed,” Jones added. “It is simply heartbreaking.”

“Here, despite all of the adversity is a real human hurricane,” Figueras said.

He explained that this “human hurricane” is evident by “the people along with the authorities rushing into affected areas with help despite the scarcity of resources.”

But while volunteers have been going into Eastern Cuba to aid with the recovery, more help is clearly needed.

“We are asking every concerned and caring individual to open their hearts,” said Jones, who has spent more than 20 years directing humanitarian efforts in Eastern Cuba from his home in Northeast Florida.

Mrs. Jones says they must “get the word out,” for the need for help for Black Cubans who often do not benefit from the remittances that Cubans in the U.S. (many of whom are white) send to their relatives on the island.

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BVN National News Wire