Thursday, July 7, 2011

ArmChair Obama™ : Fixing The Black-White Employment Gap.

When people were on the campaign trail back in 2008 chanting about how "race doesn't matter" and "we're postracial" simply because they found a black(ish) guy they could stomach voting for, I knew we were gonna be in for some real trouble should candidate Obama win. For the record, yes, I think lots of people did indeed vote for him because he was both qualified and just so happened to be black. And no, I didn't think there was anything particularly bad about this.

People vote for folks because of their gender, place of birth, stated religious beliefs, and of yes, because of their race all the time. It's not anything new, nor does it send some gloomy message about the state of the American electorate. People trust people they can identify with, and they usually factor this into their voting habits, whether deliberately or subconsciously. It quite simply is what it is.

That said, it is somewhat dangerous for people (black and white) to vote for a candidate on the flawed premise that doing so would magically erase decades of racial inequality and tension. In fact, it's downright comical and thankfully, it's something candidate Obama repeatedly warned his supporters about. There is so silver bullet to fixing longstanding issues of uneven education, employment, and wealth. The election of Barack Obama hasn't resulted in any dramatic shift in the achievement gap in public education. Blacks have lost their homes at startling rates due to the recession. And of yeah, it's still harder for the AverageBro to both get and retain a job, as a recent Salon article dissected in depth.
Like the country it governs, Washington is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest District of Columbia, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation's lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern D.C. with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America.

Live in Washington long enough and you'll hear someone mention "east of the river." That's D.C.'s version of "the other side of the tracks," the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It's home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District's first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the "Sage of Anacostia," once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area's unemployment rate is officially nearly 20 percent. District-wide, it's 9.8 percent, a figure that drops as low as 3.6 percent in the whiter, more affluent northwestern suburbs.

D.C.'s divide is America's writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2 percent is almost double the 9.1 percent rate for the rest of the population. And it's twice the 8 percent white jobless rate.

That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African-Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It's a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.
The question is, what can a President do to fix these issues?

Play Armchair Obama™ and tell me what you'd do.

Question: What did you think the President can do to fix the black/white employment gap?!? Does a riding tide lift all ships, or does the President need to focus specifically on the issues of the black community? What would you do to remedy the situation?

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