The problem with having a deadline at the end of the week, is that you miss the opportunity to weigh in on things, such as an election, that happens on a Tuesday. It is almost torture when you consider the possibilities face us on November 7 and beyond. I am hoping that President Obama can pull it off, but I am cognizant of the numbers that suggest that Willard is nipping at his heels. No matter what happens, there are real issues that must be faced not only in the next few weeks, but also in the next few years.
The unemployment rate report that was released last Friday was good news for President Obama. The unemployment rate ticked up just a tiny bit, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent. It stayed below the magic number of 8 percent, which is a boost for the president. Behind the good news, though, there are issues of concern. For example the African American unemployment rate rose significantly from 13.4 to 14.3 percent. Black women took most of the hit, with unemployment rates rising from 10.9 to 12.4 percent. Meanwhile, Black male unemployment dropped from 14.2 to 14.1 percent.
There’s more. More than 5 million people have been officially unemployed for more than half a year. They have been looking for work for an average of 41 weeks. I cannot imagine the pain and misery that is reflected in such a long job search. One wonders how many of these folks have left the labor market because they have become discouraged. At the same time, the data shows that more than 600,000 people returned to the labor force as a result of recent trends.
The most discouraging data comes from hidden unemployment and other measures of unemployment. The 7.8 percent overall rate of unemployment is reported as 14.6 percent. Thus, the Black unemployment rate of 14.3 percent translates to an overall Black unemployment rate of 26.4 percent. That means more than one in four African Americans is unemployed. In some urban areas, as many as half of the African American male population does not work.
When President Obama wins this election, African American activists, especially those who have access, must remind our president of this data. They must suggest that there is a coordinated and comprehensive response to the disproportionate exclusion of African Americans in our economy. In the unlikely scenario that Romney is elected, it will be a signal for African American people to figure out how to develop an economic model that does not depend on government (not a bad idea in any case). Then make the new administration understand that they are not only the leaders of conservatives, but also leaders of our entire nation.
When African Americans are marginalized in the labor market, the whole of our nation suffers. Any unused human capital is a drain on our economy and society. Whether Gov. Romney or President Obama is the victor on November 6, the brain drain that is a result of high unemployment rates will not be staunched until there is focused attention on Romney’s 47 percent. Investments in education are threatened by the Ryan budget, but following the Ryan budget is much like eating our seed corn instead of plating it for the next generation. The focus on education improvements in China and India are really a focus on the failure of our nation to fully invest in higher education, especially for those who are underrepresented.
Our nation’s situation is not simply about an election, but about a matter of direction. Too many of us think that voting is the most we can do, not the least we can do. Too many of us have eschewed the role of community agitator and activist. Way too many of us feel that professional success and community involvement are mutually exclusive. Too many of us fail to understand that our personal success germinates from community activity.
The unemployment rate data is a monthly reminder of the State of Black America. If we are unsatisfied with the facts, what will we do to change them?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. •