The State of the Black Union

Marketplace Staff Feb 1, 2011

The State of the Black Union

Marketplace Staff Feb 1, 2011


Kai Ryssdal: The January unemployment report comes out Friday morning. Given the trend the past couple of months, the general tone will probably be one of slow, but consistent economic growth. But what you see depends on where you look.

Last year we talked to Dr. Julianne Malveaux. She’s the president of Bennett College. She’s also an economist. And we asked her about the State of the Black Union two years into the recession.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux: Well the State of the Black Union is, I think, on the brink and over the edge.

Ryssdal: We’ve invited Dr. Malveaux back to talk about economic recovery in the black community — one of several conversations we’re going to be having this month about the economic experiences of African Americans. Dr. Malveaux, good to talk to you again.

Malveaux: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: On the brink and over the edge as we just heard from last year. You still feeling that way?

Malveaux: I think it’s even worse now. If the economy is recovering, it has not trickled down to working people and it certainly has not trickled down to African Americans.

Ryssdal: This is kind of a stretch, it’s a heavy-duty word, but would you use the word “depression” for the African-American community?

Malveaux: Oh, emphatically. If you look at the official unemployment rate, it’s 9.4 percent. But when you look at the BLS reports —

Ryssdal: That’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government, the Labor Department.

Malveaux: Yeah. And the alternative measure for everyone goes from 9.4 to 16.7. For African Americans, the unemployment rate is 15.8 percent. Using the same level of extrapolation, you get to 28 percent. Twenty-eight percent is a clear depression.

Ryssdal: What then can the government do? The government is having a tough time creating jobs overall, how can they concentrate specifically on the African-American communities that can change things?

Malveaux: I think targeting. I think education and training. But targeting is important. It’s not that a rising tide lifts all boats when some people are riding and some people are rowing. It’s that you have to target the rowers so that they get to become riders. So you have to do something to ensure that African-American people have open doors to this economy. The way that we’ve seen economic recovery happen — and I would doubt that it’s happened, but of course traditional economists say that it has — is you’ve seen a Wall Street recovery, you’re seeing some of our larger businesses recover. But then the sequence is going to be next small- and medium-sized businesses, then all workers, and then finally peripheral workers — many of whom are African American. So you’ve got to change the sequencing.

Ryssdal: If that sequence doesn’t change, though, what’s your guess as a professional economist as to when the African-American community in this country might see some kind of recovery?

Malveaux: I couldn’t say. I mean, 2012 is when we expect to see the overall economy recover. But that means for African Americans we’re probablly talking two years later.

Ryssdal: And the odds of that happening in your estimation?

Malveaux: They’re very low. They’re not impoosible. But the challenge, of course, is the president feels so very reluctant to target anything toward African Americans for fear of being accused of favoring this community.

Ryssdal: Do you think there’s anything the president can do?

Malveaux: Absolutely. One of the things that’s on the table, of course, is Jim Clyburn’s 10, 20, 30 plan, which basically says recovery funds — 10 percent of them should be targeted toward distressed communities, those with 20 percent poverty or more, for the next 30 years. That would actually guarantee a stream of job possibilities to distressed communities, many of which are African American. That’s one thing the government could do without putting “black” on the program.

Ryssdal: So here’s a subjective question for somebody who studies what is ostensibly an objective profession — that of economics. Are you at this point hopeful about the State of the Black Union?

Malveaux: You know what, that’s a very interesting question. I just heard Chicago’s Father Pfleger speak and he described himself as “a prisoner of hope.” He said that even when the data was poor, he could not help but hopeful because if you cannot be hopeful, you really can’t talk about change. So I would share that opinion that we have to be hopeful but hope and a quarter will get you a paper. And so I am hopeful that the American people will be ignited by this economy to organize to improve it.

Ryssdal: Dr. Julianne Malveaux is the president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. She’s an economist as well. Dr. Malveaux, thanks so much for your time.

Malveaux: Thank you, appreciate it.

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