Many experts are pointing to credit checks and discrimination against the unemployed as a “silent crisis” being widely ignored by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. That problem could be exacerbating a stubborn above-average long-term jobless rate — even as Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures indicate a dropping unemployment rate now at 7.5 percent.
However, the BLS rate won’t show long-term discouraged workers that, according to economist John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, push the total unemployment rate to 23 percent.
“People of color are more likely to have ‘poor credit’ because of historical and contemporary forms of discrimination that limit opportunities,” argues Hannah Emple, a policy analyst with the New America Foundation’s Asset Building Program. “A low credit score thus becomes more of a proxy for a person’s experience with discriminatory structures rather than a measure of their ability to repay loans in a responsible and timely manner.”
Emple points to a Demos 2012 national survey on credit card debt in low- and middle-income households which showed 1 out of 10 unemployed workers reporting that unfavorable credit checks kept them out of a job. And while the majority of white households report high credit scores of 700 or above, less than a quarter of African Americans have reached that same level.
“Using a job applicant’s credit history to deny employment is not fair because personal credit history is not an accurate predictor of job performance,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). In 2011, Cohen introduced the Equal Employment for All Act (H.R. 321) to prohibit employers from using credit checks except in cases of national security, FDIC clearance or major responsibility over employer and employee finances. He recently re-introduced it as H.R. 645 and has 30 co-sponsors.
Cohen, who is white, represents the predominantly Black district of Memphis, Tenn., where average credit scores are ranked in the bottom 10 cities in the nation according to a 2012 Experian survey. “Second chances in Hollywood and professional sports occur every day, but not for my constituents who are desperately looking for work,” argues Cohen, who had also been working closely with the Congressional Black Caucus on the issue.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, is also “very aware of the issue and is working both directly on this issue and also attacking it in other ways,” according to spokesperson Harry Gural.
Waters, who would chair the committee overseeing topics such as credit checks and unemployment discrimination, co-sponsored Cohen’s H.R. 321, but is currently reviewing the latest iteration. And she recently introduced the Medical Debt Responsibility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1767) which would help improve consumer access to credit by removing fully settled or paid medical debt information from a credit report within 45 days.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) is also looking aggressively at the companion issue of unemployment discrimination, recently attempting to revive his own legislation which puts a stop to many employers denying applicants if they’re unemployed. “Discrimination against the unemployed – especially the long-term unemployed – in job ads and hiring practices flies in the face of what we stand for as a nation: Equal opportunity for all,” said Johnson.
How far the legislation goes will depend greatly on the pulse of the majority House Republican Caucus. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chairs the House Financial Services Committee, and there is no indication he has looked at the issue despite a subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Credit Reporting that, presumably, provides oversight on the topic. Hensarling’s office had yet to respond to Tribune inquiries by the filing of this story.
Despite signs of movement on the issue, there are concerns that the credit reporting industry is greatly influencing the debate through heavy lobbying and campaign contributions. The Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), which represents the major credit bureaus, spent nearly $1.3 million in lobbying expenses between 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.
Contributions to candidates from CDIA’s political action committee have dropped substantially since the 2008 election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. But, the PAC still spent $11,000 in the last cycle, the majority of funds going to Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) who received $1,000.
Among only eight House members receiving funds from the PAC – and only two Democrats - was Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY). Meeks is the ranking member on the Financial Institutions and Credit Reporting subcommittee. His office did not respond to repeated requests from the Tribune for comment.
That Meeks is a CBC member overseeing a predominantly Black district in New York City struggling with high unemployment raises the eyebrows of some observers. While the phenomenon of credit checks is disproportionately impacting African Americans, there are Black members of Congress, according to federal campaign finance data, receiving checks from the credit reporting industry. Meeks also received $1,000 from Equifax, along with famed civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in 2012. Other CBC Members Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Gwen Moore (D-WI), received $1,500 and $5,500 respectively from Experian.
And President Obama received $1,300 from TransUnion during 2012. The White House has not yet mentioned the issue of credit checks or unemployment discrimination as an issue, despite a renewed focus on jobs.
Still, Meeks and Butterfield are recent co-sponsors of H.R. 645. “Though the specific issue of employment credit checks has not been one the Caucus has collectively addressed, it is a top priority for many of our members,” said Ayofemi Kirby, CBC Press Secretary. “Campaign contributions do not influence any issue on which the Caucus chooses to take collective action.”
On the other side, Rep. Hensarling is a major recipient of industry PAC dollars, receiving $5,000 from Experian in 2012. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), the Republican chairing the subcommittee overseeing credit reporting issues, also received $2,500 from Experian and $1,000 from Equifax in 2012.
Philadelphia-area Rep. Alyson Schwartz (D-PA), who recently announced plans to run for Governor in 2014, expressed concern that credit checks were keeping “well-qualified candidates [from] hav[ing] full access to the jobs they are qualified for.”
“I am currently reviewing this legislation,” said Schwartz when asked about the Cohen bill and current efforts to revive the issue. “It is important that we identify and address barriers to hiring for those capable and eager to contribute their skills to our local economy.”
In Pennsylvania, half of all residents have credit scores below 700.
But, the credit reporting industry contends that credit checks are just one in an “arsenal of tools” needed by employers to ensure they are hiring the right people. Norm Magnuson, Vice President of Public Affairs for CDIA, also points out that employers are using the tool less these days – although a majority still are.
“In the last two years, the percentage of companies not using credit reports for employment, 53 percent versus 40 percent, has actually increased,” says Magnuson, who references a recent Society of Human Resource Management Study. “And 80 percent of companies have hired someone who has adverse information in their report.”
“Employers are looking for patterns instead of one-off experiences,” counters Magnuson, who stresses that credit checks are only for specific types of positions rather than all positions. “Honestly, employers are looking to hire people. They’re not looking to not hire people.”
Richard Mellor, a Philadelphia native and former retailer who is now vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation, argues that “lack of credit is part of a larger picture that employers have to rely on when hiring.”
“It does have a lot to do with the individual who’s assessing the applicant,” says Mellor. “And there is a desire to be race-neutral [in that effort]. Employers are very conscious about that.”
“I’m not sure they really need to credit check for all positions,” counters Joe Valenti, director of asset building at the Center for American Progress, who is worried how this practice is affecting a younger generation of largely unemployed and student-loan burdened college graduates. Valenti disputes the notion that bad credit reports translate into bad employee performance. “There are studies showing that if you are undergoing financial distress you are going to be much more likely to pay off your debt. If credit is keeping you out of a job, that’s only going to put you deeper and deeper into debt.”
When the Senate recently passed along its voluminous 844-page immigration reform bill to the House of Representatives, there was a secretive bipartisan team of House members waiting for it on the other side. Known as the “Gang of 8” – a bite off the famed Senate “Gang of 8” grabbing headlines – the select group consists of four Democrats and four Republicans. The purpose of a House “Gang of 8,” sources say, is an attempt at carefully crafting and navigating a politically volatile issue.
Keeping the group small is seen as a key to its success in what is perceived as one of the most polarized and raucous House in decades. Democrats in the group are represented by Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and John Yarmuth (D-KY). Hailing from the Republican side are Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), John Carter (R-TX) and Sam Johnson (R-TX).
But there are no Black members in the “Gang of 8.”
The question is being raised by a number of observers and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) watchers: out of 42 Black members of Congress currently serving in the House, why couldn’t one African American serve on the “Gang of 8?” The query raises a number of complicated issues for not only the immigration reform debate, but also for a CBC that is perpetually battling charges by critics who view it as ineffective.
Peter Groff, a former lecturer at the University of Denver and himself the first Black president of the Colorado State Senate who served as a co-chair of President Obama’s 2008 campaign, is perplexed by the absence of Black members and wonders if the CBC is “timid.” Groff suggests that could be a key reason behind the Senate immigration bill cutting the “diversity visa” program that has become a critical entry point for African and Caribbean immigrants.
“The CBC should have had the Black media on this when immigration exploded several years ago,” says Groff. “You can’t drive policy and educate at the same time. At this point, it’s really hard to add such a nuanced component to an issue that seems so basic and widely understood like immigration.”
“Not all immigrants are Latino, I see the point. Immigration reform impacts other groups, as well,” notes Alexandra Starr, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Still, Starr views the diversity visa program as not “having the same kind of built-in constituency” as the other provisions in the Senate immigration bill. Republican opposition to the visa is also hampering efforts to broker a final deal.
“It doesn’t have the same kind of cheerleading base and it seems like one of the easier things to cut. And members of the GOP are just not comfortable with diversity visas. The question is how do you allocate them?”
Sources close to immigration reform talks suggest something is being worked out whereby diversity visas will get cut, but a proposed merit system will offer more points to Black migrants so visas are not so heavily “skewed to European and Asian immigrants.”
Still, the diversity visa issue and the total lack of CBC participation on the Gang of 8 is seen as another problematic issue for the caucus. There are currently 435 Members in the House – 42 of them are African American. That constitutes nearly 10 percent of the entire House population.
In addition, 10 percent of the entire U.S. immigrant population is from Africa and many Caribbean islands. The number could be slightly higher when taking into account that many Black-skinned and Spanish-speaking migrants from Latin American countries such as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and others consider themselves part of the African Diaspora.
“The program is under political siege and there have been some significant political battles over it,” observes Michael Fix at the Migration Policy Institute. “The outcome will completely depend on what the CBC decides.”
So why weren’t CBC members included in the House Gang of 8 from the start? Some see the fight over diversity visas as a test of CBC influence in flexing legislative muscle. It’s also seen as a reflection of whether the House truly values the input of its Black members, many of whom are Ranking Members on prominent committees.
“There’s an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment happening that everybody is now realizing,” says a Democratic source familiar with the immigration reform negotiations who asked not to be identified. A large part of the problem, explains the source, stems from the group’s genesis in 2009 by Reps. Johnson and Becerra in preparation for an ambitious immigration reform attempt that ultimately failed. Initially, the group was crowded with members – more than two dozen by some accounts. But, over time, the leaders of the team saw a need for control and discipline to ensure the latest bid at immigration reform wouldn’t fail.
Thinning the group has created the impression that it lacks transparency.
When asked by the Tribune if CBC Members were invited to serve on the group, Gang of 8 offices went silent. By the filing of this story, Democratic Gang of 8 member offices refused to speak on record about it; Republican offices did not respond at all. One senior aide with knowledge of the group but unwilling to speak on record described a “severe gag order” being in effect.
“[The] working group has always tried to operate by consensus,” says another senior aide intimately familiar with the situation, but not authorized to speak on record. “Until recently, all of the conversations among the working group members were in private to help build trust across party lines.”
The aide described “a real opportunity before us this year to pass comprehensive immigration reform” and insisted that the “members of the working group began seeking out advice and input from colleagues, including the CBC.”
Still other sources describe the CBC being highly irritated by their absence from the group. The CBC itself is mum on the question. And while the caucus may have pressed for a seat at the table, it’s not exactly clear what happened. When asked if there was any discussion of whether or not African American Members of Congress would be invited to the Gang of 8, a spokesperson for Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), co-chair of the CBC Immigration Task Force, would only say, “Not to our knowledge.”
“The Gang of 8 has been very attentive to our concerns over the bill in the Senate and has been working with us to the best of their ability,” said Rep. Clarke, herself the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. “On the House, although the CBC wasn’t invited to the negotiation table with the Republicans, the House Judiciary Democrats have given us a seat at their table to ensure that our voices, issues, and concerns are adequately conveyed and addressed during negotiations.”
Few Americans understood why there was a sudden spurt of widespread interest in Mali in early 2012. Yet, the very poor and relatively powerless West African country was capturing mainstream global news headlines when a little known U.S.-trained Malian Army captain staged a bizarre and successful mini-coup d’etat with an angry band of disgruntled troops.
Recent events in Africa have sparked controversy over a renewed role the United States is playing in the continent’s military and economic affairs. And with the immigration reform debate brewing on Capitol Hill, observers are reigniting fresh conversation on the massive Black migrant population in the United States. African immigrants are among the most educated in the U.S., yet the latest immigration reform bill leaves out critical “diversity visas” that have helped sustain a constant flow of Black Diaspora migrants into the country.
“At the moment, it’s not clear whether the Senate bill includes an adequate vehicle designed to make sure that immigrants from underrepresented parts of the world have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” argued Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). “A robust forward-looking immigration vehicle is critical for immigrants of African descent, and this issue must be addressed in order for immigration reform to be truly comprehensive.”
That conversation, with both Congressional lawmakers and Obama administration officials, may be greatly influenced by recent events in Africa.
For more than a decade, American foreign policy was pretty much consumed by a protracted “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and a highly unpopular foray into Iraq. Still, there were signs of a post-Cold War American surge in the continent of 1.1 billion people. In 2003, the Bush administration was dropping $15 billion over five years into its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, with the bulk headed mostly to African countries hit hard by the virus. And while many observers credit that campaign for slowing HIV/AIDS rates in Africa, the effort largely went unseen, overshadowed by growing discontent with draining wars in the Middle East.
However, U.S. focus on Africa has made a noticeable shift from a focus on foreign aid to the traditionally beleaguered continent to one of increasing military and diplomatic activity. From the overthrow and eventual death of Libyan despot Muammar Ghadafi in 2011 to the more current destabilization of Mali by coups and Islamist militants, Africa is suddenly retaking a prominent place in the global attention span. And with many U.S. diplomats worried about “Arab Spring” developments in North African countries impacting already dysfunctional nation states in Black sub-Saharan Africa, the U.S. military — with its AFRICOM apparatus — is stepping up its presence in the region in ways not seen since the Cold War rivalry with the former Soviet Union.
“The U.S. military footprint in Africa used to be largely confined to Djibouti, where troops and support personnel were stationed to monitor developments in the Horn of Africa and the Southern Arabian peninsula,” notes Philip Lohaus, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. “But as the recent unrest in Mali indicated, the potential for instability in Africa spreads far beyond the Horn.”
Some observers of the region are watching those developments unfold with a wary eye. Major military and economic powers such as the U.S. and China are finding themselves engaged in a race to find more controllable oil and natural resource venues. Africa watchers suggest the U.S. is re-engaging or re-focusing the extent of its involvement on the continent due to a need to shift from oil dependency in the Middle East and to contain a burgeoning movement of Islamist insurgents in critical strategic corridors in Eastern and Western Africa. For example, over the past decade, the U.S. has drawn more than 10 percent of its oil imports from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its second largest economy.
“The U.S. has boots on the ground and manned and unmanned aircraft in the skies of Mali, to answer supposed threats to U.S. national security poised by Al Qeda. If you believe that, you believe Saddam actually had nuclear weapons,” comments Black Agenda Report Managing Editor Bruce A. Dixon. “The U.S. and France are in Mali to prevent its civil society from controlling its land and water and to preserve predatory Western leases on hundreds of square miles in Mali that prop up the recent reconquest of Libya.”
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) oversees the Congressional Black Caucus’s Africa Braintrust and serves as ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. While she’s “concerned about” growing U.S. military influence on the continent, she’s not so sure it’s as bad as thought.
“I have certainly been one of those folks once leery about U.S. military involvement around the world,” explains Bass in an interview with the Tribune. “But, traveling there and finding out what’s happening there now, I’ve taken a step back and re-evaluated those positions.”
Lohaus adds that’s not such a bad thing, and that renewed interest promotes stability. “Africa is resource-rich, but the United States has not focused its efforts solely on countries that harbor such resources. If anything, the increased stability of these nations will ensure that their resources are harvested more equitably.”
“It’s fine to be engaged, but that shouldn’t be contingent upon multinational corporations having access to resources,” counters Mwazi Munthali, director of public outreach for TransAfrica, a Washington-based lobbying group encouraging greater awareness and advocacy for Africa from the African-American community. “It has to be a genuine partnership that is respectful of Africa’s needs, unlike the old days.”
Bass is careful not to sugarcoat the situation either and warns against U.S. military involvement “becoming an excuse for propping up brutal regimes.”
“We’ve not always had a good history in Africa.”
Still, Bass is optimistic. “There is no evidence of the U.S. becoming a neo-colonial power making a bid for African resources. That’s a bit of the old model,” she adds. “And leaders in Africa that I’ve talked to want to move away from aid and toward trade.”
Munthali is cautious. “One would rather that the U.S. would be there in partnership with the African continent rather than exploiting it.”
But Munthali, hopes that the ancestral African-American relationship with Africa will play a prominent role in dictating the terms of U.S. involvement. “The Black American community has always taken the lead on human rights, civil rights and the fight for independence.”
As fresh April rains, cherry blossoms and the Boston Marathon bombing converged into a frenetic Washington week, the White House attempted some legislative multi-tasking. President Barack Obama pushed an ambitious mix of gun control and immigration reform, and continued backroom negotiations over a fiscal year 2014 budget package. All this against the backdrop of soothing the mourning Boston victims, calming fears of a larger scale attack when ricin-laced letters were intercepted in Washington, and busily going about the business of meeting his earlier public promise to marathon bombing suspects that, “We will find you.”
What was not lost on observers was the ease with which the White House cemented a centrist approach. On every major legislative push, from gun control to immigration reform to wrangling over the details of next fiscal year’s budget, Obama is mapping out a middle road.
Charles S. Konigsberg, president of the Federal Budget Group, understands that approach. Konigsberg worked on both sides of the aisle in the Senate — as Republican counsel for the Senate Budget Committee and Democratic General Counsel for Senate Finance, as well as counsel in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. “Framing the ‘sensible center’ on difficult issues is the essence of effective leadership,” asserts Konigsberg. “The president is the only public official representing all Americans, and has a responsibility to forge a middle ground when the Congress is gridlocked over important issues like the budget, gun control and immigration.”
David Bositis disagrees. A senior analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Bositis can’t see this approach “going anywhere.”
“I think his political strategy is to set a stage where the GOP can be made to look ultra-right and intransigent in their politics,” argues Bositis.
Yet, making the GOP look “ultra-right” suggests the president is working in conjunction with hungry Democrats eager to either make gains or, at least, hold the electoral line in 2014. National Priorities Project Research Director Mattea Kramer seems on the fence with that notion when examining the president’s fiscal year 2014 budget, a massive late-dropping tome that’s been met with resentment from all sides. “He didn’t do his party any favors,” observes Kramer.
“It’s not all that clear that this centrist position will help him accomplish anything in terms of policy goals,” says Kramer, noting the president has more than likely “exposed himself to attack from both the left and right.”
“He very much alienated his left base, and Republicans are calling it an attack on seniors.”
Even with the president pressing a full scale lobbying assault for gun control, there was no indication he realistically envisioned an assault weapons ban — but, in the lauded compromise bill between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), there was definitely hope of a bipartisan sweet spot on universal background checks. A recent Economist/YouGov poll showed 77 percent of Americans favoring extended background checks, including 68 percent of Republicans.
The White House is also hedging its bets for an eventual middle ground deal on immigration reform. While immigration advocates and business leaders alike expressed concerns over strict “trigger” measures and heavy bureaucracy on the path to citizenship, Senate negotiators were embracing the compromise elements of a bill that appeared to have a better chance of passage than gun control.
In each instance, the White House aims to give as much political wiggle room for weary Senate Democrats and Republicans heading into what will be a bombastic Congressional mid-term season next year. On gun control, an assault weapons ban would have been political suicide for any Republican voting for it, and even for many rural or red state Democrats supporting it. On immigration, Republicans need a bill with rigid citizenship and border security provisions to keep their angry conservative base under control; Democrats just need the cover to keep their Senate majority and possibly regain the House. On the budget, there are no winners, with both Democrats and Republicans miffed on everything from entitlement cuts to tax increases.
Ultimately, however, the White House is hoping no one is happy so all parties can walk away knowing their opponent only got as much as they did. “The essence of compromise on contentious issues requires that everyone put skin in the game,” adds Konigsberg.
Many observers, however, are still torn over whether or not compromise gives President Obama the kind of change-agent legacy he wants.
“His ongoing tendency to cede ground when it’s unnecessary is unfortunate from a political, policy and human impact perspective,” complains Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm in Washington, D.C. “President Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security, veterans benefits and other federally-issued benefit programs through the introduction of the ‘chained CPI’ represents a capitulation to big business interests, who for decades have been calling for cuts to these programs, or in the case of Social Security, for privatization.”
Rockeymoore believes that will be “politically toxic for Congressional Democrats” in 2014 given that the demographics most impacted by these changes typically vote Democrat. “[They] will be seeking to court seniors, veterans, and other voters who depend on these programs and will be hit hardest by these cuts.”
However, Scott Lilly, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former senior Congressional staffer, sees advantages in what he senses are the president’s use of “different strategies in different situations.”
“A president who is dealing with an intransigent Congress can gain advantage by making a reasonable or even generous offer knowing that it will not be accepted and in the end there will be no deal,” notes Lilly, who also served as Executive Director of the House Democratic Study Group. “He may not get the deal he wants but he will leave less doubt in the public’s mind as to who is being unreasonable.”
“On the other hand, making a reasonable offer at the outset of negotiations can seriously weaken the prospect that the agreement will reflect the president’s priorities.”
Charles D. Ellison is the Washington Correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune.
Amid a flurry of middle-of-the-week politics, the National Urban League released its much-anticipated State of Black America 2013 report, launching its annual exercise on Capitol Hill. And while the normally gregarious NUL President Marc Morial seemed ceremoniously upbeat, rolling out press conferences with the Congressional Black Caucus and adding an aggressive tech-bent, social media edge to the launch, the former New Orleans Mayor held no illusions about the challenges ahead.
“It’s a tale of two cities. It’s a two-sided coin. On one hand, high school graduation rates have increased. College enrollment numbers have improved. The poverty rate for Black children has been cut in half,” observed Morial in a conversation with the Tribune, ticking off a list of items that probably show an African-American community in much better shape than conventional wisdom would have it. “But, on the other hand, when you look at it, the levels of unemployment were actually lower back then. The economic gap between Blacks and whites is still wide. You have to look at it two ways.”
What worries Morial is that in the age of the Black president, and while impressions of Black progress abound, advocates don’t lull themselves to sleep. The Black poverty rate 50 years ago may have been much higher than it is today — in fact, back in 1963 it was over 50 percent. But, now it stands at nearly 28 percent.
Still, “you have to look at it both ways,” cautions Morial again, who delves back into the numbers. The State of Black America report still highlights that stubborn economic gap, especially considering white unemployment is still a point shy of 10 percent. The report offers its “Equality Index” as a primary indicator, comparing 71.7 percent equality for Blacks to “100 percent equality” for Whites.
“That means that rather than having a whole pie (100 percent), which would mean full equality with whites in 2013, African Americans are missing about 28 percent of the pie,” argues the report.
With experts continuing to argue over whether the economic recession actually left, and with recent job numbers showing little progress as critics claim sequestration is taking a bite out of the economy, the ugly fact of 47 million poor Americans remains. That number has stayed rather static since 2010 – and, just like the Urban League report suggests – it’s actually larger than any other indicator of poverty over more than 50 years.
Thanks to the recession, poverty found itself increasing from 12.3 percent in 2006 to the current rate of 15 percent, with poverty highs exacerbated by economic stagnation in ways unseen over the past 18 years, according to the Congressional Research Service. Interestingly enough, poverty hit a recorded historical low in 1973 when it was 11.1 percent – and it was 11.3 percent just twelve years ago.
It’s one of the main reasons the Urban League is taking what Morial describes as “a 50-year retrospective, looking back to 1963, which was a historic year.”
That year is as vintage as some of the problems advocates have struggled to tackle over the years. A tidal wave of major events converged at once, from the legendary March on Washington to the tragic assassination of Medgar Evers. From the Civil Rights Act of 1963 to the sudden assassination of President Kennedy.
In 2013, worries mount over signs of a return to the days of rampant uncertainty and widespread open racism, despite the historic transformations that were taking place. “People have to listen carefully: we’re talking about 50 year trends. Some of these trend lines have begun to go in the wrong direction since the recession. There is no doubt these improvements took place prior to the recession.”
Incidentally, the State of Black America 2013 report was being introduced at the exact same time the White House unveiled its budget for Fiscal Year 2014. Observers are pointing out the irony of what appears to be President Obama’s olive branch to Republicans, a fiscal soup of reforms to critical safety nets such as Social Security and Medicare that experts suggest could hurt more than help African Americans.
“Al Sharpton famously said, ‘It’s not about Obama, it’s about your momma.’ He was making a compelling argument that the public needed to be concerned about Mitt Romney’s draconian Social Security and Medicare proposals,” observes GlobalPolicy.TV’s Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, a former senior Congressional aide and now Founder/CEO of Global Policy Solutions. “Now that the Obama Administration has released its 2014 budget that includes cuts to both Social Security and Medicare, African Americans must now face the bitter reality that it’s literally about Obama and our mommas.”
“Although the $400 billion in cuts to Medicare should be of serious concern to African Americans since they contain provisions that would raise costs on seniors, it is the administration’s proposal to change how the annual cost of living adjustment is determined that is especially damning, because of its discriminatory impact on African Americans.”
Rockeymoore and others are vexed by the President’s proposal to shave 0.3 percent annually off the chained consumer price index or “CPI” from Social Security. Ultimately, that amounts to a standard of living reduction that could cause serious trouble for many African Americans who can’t keep up with inflation.
Morial, however, is arguing that the president’s budget is offering just the right mix of job initiatives, infrastructure development and educational program expansion to offset that.
“Tremendous new dollars for infrastructure development and workforce, job training. The promised zone initiative improving pockets of poverty in urban and rural areas,” Morial explains. “These types of proposals are not getting the type of attention they deserve. The president’s budget, on balance and on par, does some very important things in terms of addressing the jobs problem in a way we haven’t seen since the stimulus plan.”