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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has managed an incredible feat. In a Google search of millions of references of his campaign speeches, interviews, and his writings, I could not find a single word that he has written or spoken about the greatest economic crisis that faces any of the nation’s voter constituencies. That's the crisis of black unemployment. The release of the June Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figures found that the chronically high jobless numbers among blacks and the Great Depression level jobless numbers among young black males jumped even higher.
In more than a dozen major urban areas, nearly one out of four blacks is unemployed. This continues the trend of the past few months in which the tepid down tick of the jobless rate among blacks was decisively reversed. The closest anyone in the Romney camp has come to acknowledging the severity of the crisis is a terse, vague, and perfunctory statement from a black Romney campaign advisor. She knocked the Obama administration for allegedly not "talking about" black unemployment.
Romney will have his chance to break his silence on the problem when he addresses the NAACP’s annual conference July 12. If past Romney performance is any guide, he'll almost certainly make his stock bromide pitch that he'll grow jobs with massive corporate tax cuts, sharply paring down regulations on business starting with repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform, and by spurring, private not government, initiatives. This supposedly will unleash the awesome power of private industry to create thousands of new jobs that will lift all battered ships; meaning for him that blacks will be major beneficiaries of this supposed unfettered free market, private industry job surge.
Conservatives have not changed this worn script for creating jobs for minorities since Reagan. The only wrinkle to it has come from black conservatives who delight in taunting civil rights leaders with the refrain, “what have the Democrats and Obama done to end black’s economic misery?” Romney’s black advisor repeated that line in defending Romney’s economic prescription for blacks. This is all, of course, pure economic mythmaking that ignores too much history.
During the late 1990s joblessness tumbled to its lowest levels in two decades. Help wanted signs were everywhere. Deficit spending was not a major administration or Congressional flashpoint issue since the government had a healthy budget surplus. There was no wholesale flight of capital to off shore havens, and ballooning trade deficits. Most important to the joy of conservatives, corporations and medium sized businesses expanded and created tens of thousands of new jobs. Yet, the unemployment rate for young black males was double–and just as the latest jobless figures again shows in the major urban areas–triple that of white males. Private industry did not wipe out the nagging racial gap in employment.
There’s no evidence that anything has changed since then, and much evidence that it has worsened. The major corporations and financial services industry has racked up record profits, hoarded trillions in cash, and paid relatively low overall taxes. In many cases, top corporations have paid no domestic corporate taxes. But those profits have not led to even a trace of the massive job expansion that Romney’s job prescription promises.
They won’t. And Romney can’t and won’t even hint at the other causes for the black jobless crisis. They include major slashes in state and federal funds for job training and skills programs, the shrinkage in the number of low and semi-skilled service and retail jobs, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records. The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st Century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian, and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has slowed down.
Then there’s discrimination. The legion of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action programs and successful employment discrimination lawsuits give the public the impression that job discrimination is a relic of a shameful, racist past. However, countless studies on employment discrimination still tell a damning story of subtle and blatant discrimination especially in management and supervisory hiring and promotions in corporate industry.
The Congressional Black Caucus reports that at least half of all unemployed black workers have been out of work for a year or more. Many have given up looking for work. The Census does not count them among the unemployed.
The black unemployed like the poor have no powerful advocacy groups and are mostly nameless and faceless. They make-up no defined constituency that Romney can court and bank on to vote for him in any numbers. The NAACP is certainly not the place where he’d find those votes. His prescription for knocking down black joblessness then is more than failed and flawed. It’s disastrous, but that’s not what the NAACP and blacks would ever hear from him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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