TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Tess Vigeland: This week we’re assessing the state of the black union, the challenges facing African Americans in this new decade. Today, a look at jobs. Congress and the White House are trying to hammer out an employment bill to get Americans back to work and stimulate the economy. The national unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent.
Commentator Margaret Simms says that’s a number that would spark envy in the black community.
MARGARET SIMMS: In January, the rate for African Americans was nearly 17 percent compared with roughly 9 percent for white workers. News flash: This two-to-one ratio was the norm.
As I see it, the reason African Americans are out in the cold when it comes to jobs boils down to three words: location, location, location.
Many African Americans live in cities like Cleveland or Detroit that prospered during the heyday of heavy manufacturing but have struggled as the economy has transitioned to new industries, like high tech.
And those that do find themselves in areas with strong economic growth like Los Angeles or Atlanta have historically been isolated to parts of town with little or no opportunities.
To get African Americans back to work in this country, three things need to happen.
Both federal and local governments need to attract employers to African American neighborhoods. This would provide jobs and fuel local economies. Financial incentives like tax breaks would be a good way to go.
More job training opportunities need to be available to retrain those who are out of work. The problem: Federal dollars for work force programs have been falling for the last two decades. And all at a time when jobs that pay decent wages are increasingly requiring higher skills. This is a service that must and could be funded right now by new stimulus dollars.
Finally, we need more of an investment in education. President Obama has already earmarked money for school reform. But this is not enough. State representatives and local school board members, people we elect, need to be on the hook, too. Can you imagine the changes we’d see if these official reelection possibilities were tied to academic achievements of African American students?
We need to answer the question of how to get African Americans back to work right now if America is to remain a leader in the global economy, and to do that it’s got to stop leaving people in its own country behind.
VIGELAND: Margaret Simms is a fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. Listen for more this week about solutions to the challenges African Americans are facing.
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