Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“I have a dream,” and it’s jobs for blacks.

10% of black Americans were unemployed in 1963, compared with 12.6% today. For most of this time, unemployment among blacks has remained almost double the national average and that of white Americans.

--National Urban League’s 2013 “State of Black America Report”

50 years ago to the day, the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, he spoke at the 250,000 person “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” To King and chief march organizer A. Philip Randolph—president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labor Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO—the march was as much about economic justice (jobs) as it was about civil rights (freedom). After King’s speech, the first significant civil rights act passed Congress within the year. But as for jobs, blacks remain as far behind whites as they were 50 years ago.

The Urban League report quoted above makes it clear how bad it’s been for blacks under five Democratic and five Republican administrations over 50 years. During that period, the national unemployment rate during recession years only averaged 6.7%. Yet over the 50 years, the black unemployment average has been 11.6%. Only in one year, 1969, did black unemployment (at 6.4%) ever dip below the national recession average. That means for 50 years, black unemployment has been permanently in recession.

In his speech today at the Lincoln Memorial, President Obama paid tribute to the 1963 March’s focus on jobs. But, no surprise, he did so in a manner that emphasized the role government must play in fixing the problem:
the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination -- the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the march, for the men and women who gathered 50 years ago . . . were there seeking jobs [yes!] as well as justice -- not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. . . This idea that -- that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood [yes!], that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work [yes!], the skills to find work [oh no, government!], decent pay [government action], some measure of material security [government redistribution] -- this idea was not new.
Dr. King explained that the goals of African-Americans were identical to working people of all races: decent wages [government], fair working conditions [government], livable housing [government], old age security [government], health [government] and welfare measures [government] -- conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.
What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores [It’s government that lured immigrants here? Really?]. And it’s along this second dimension of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life [yes!], that the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short. . . black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white employment (sic), Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown [stayed the same, anyway]. . . For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate.
Obama’s got the problem right. But who’s fault is that?

Obama blames:
  • “corporate profits” 
  • “the pay of a fortunate few” 
  • “a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence” 
  • “technology and global competition” 
  • “Entrenched interests -- those who benefit from an unjust status quo” resisting “any government efforts to give working families a fair deal, marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue [against] minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools” who say “growing inequality was the price for a growing economy, a measure of the free market -- that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.”
  • “elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth, that government [is] to blame for their growing economic insecurity -- that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.” 
In other words, Obama blames his preferred enemy; his straw-man version of white, rich Republican males.

Obama does admit:
  • “assassinations set off self-defeating riots” 
  • “grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior” 
  • “Racial politics [led to a] language of recrimination” 
  • “equality of opportunity. . . was too often framed as a mere desire for government support, as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself” 
But his concluding “dream” isn’t exactly for a nation measuring children by “the content of their character.” No, it’s rather a pean to his winning Democratic coalition of the government-dependent, the women, the minorities, and the young:
I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)
Obama isn’t fighting for jobs. He’s fighting for “good jobs and just wages” [government work makes those goals possible]. And he’s fighting for “the right to health care in the richest nation on earth for every person” (Applause); “for the right of every child. . . to get an education that . . . prepares them for the world that awaits them” (Applause); and to “feed the hungry and house the homeless and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise” [government-built infrastructure].

In 1963, we had a march for jobs. For the next 40 years, America created millions of jobs, but it has stalled in the last decade. We need to get back to honest job creation, for the benefit of white, black, and all between. And though Obama and company still believe in big government’s ability to fix the economy, here’s the basic fact:

Only small business creates jobs.

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