How Much is Enough?

Two articles that appeared on April 1 in USA Today caught my attention. At first you might think they were an April Fool’s joke. Over a million homes went into foreclosure this year and last. Nearly 15 million people are unemployed and, according to a Gallup Poll last year, 30 million more are underemployed. Poverty is pervasive among people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34 percent) of African American children and 29 percent of Latino children live below the poverty level. A report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in November, 2009 noted that nearly half of all children and 90 percent of black children will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. And yet we learn that 75 percent of top CEOs received raises in 2010. While middle and working class people are tightening their belts and being inexorably forced into poverty, (one in seven lives below the poverty level in the U.S.), we find that the compensation of the top 25 CEOs ranged from a low of $15,121,370 for David Cordani of Cigna to the “comfortable” $84,409,515 of Phillippe Dauman of Viacom. (USA Today, April 1, 2011:2B)

It would seem the economy is doing well—at least for some people.

On page 12C of the same paper sports aficionados can scan the salaries of all the teams and players in major league baseball. There are disparities there, too, though many people struggling with their rent or mortgage payments, food, fuel and health care bills probably would not commiserate with players on the “low end” of the scale, drawing in a paltry $414,000 annual salary. And who would begrudge Alex Rodriguez, of the New York Yankees his $32,000,000, or Vernon Wells of the Dodgers his $26 million? With average player compensation this year at $3.31 million, they won’t have to worry about cuts in Medicaid, Head Start, and food stamps.

Should we begrudge businessmen and athletes their salaries? The American Dream, based on the concept of a meritocracy, holds out the promise of wealth to anyone who works hard and plays by the rules. Tell that to the victims of Bernie Madoff, and the millions of children who were not lucky enough to be born to wealthy parents or win the genetic lottery as they struggle to survive. I ask you, how much is enough? Is any job worth that kind of money? What will be the effect of the recent budget deal on the lives of American children?

H. Roy Kaplan is Research Associate Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida, and author of The Myth of Post-Racial America.

March Madness and Pimps: Forms of Contemporary Slavery in America

It is that time for the 2011 NCAA college basketball championship. The NCAA teams have been courageously whittled down to only 2. This month, those two will stand on the national stage while many of you will be celebrating by enjoying young athletes giving it their all for their school on the wood court. Did you know March Madness earnings were second to the earnings of the Super Bowl? While downing beers, sodas, pizza, and other Americana delectable treats while wearing some form of clothing symbolizing your loyalty to a particular college team; I am sure many of you are not cognizant that an atrocity is occurring right under your carbohydrate induced noises. This atrocity I have ideologically catalogued as prostitution and contemporary slavery. “Wow,” you may say. “Me, support prostitution?” Well that answer is best answered through a quick and critical analysis of the big money college sporting programs such as basketball and football.

Last week, the television show Frontline, on PBS, televised “Money and March Madness.” In addition, HBO televised Bryan Gumbel’s Real Sports. Gumbel presented an hour-long show dedicated to the college sports, money, the NCAA, bribes, and exploitation of players on March 30, 2011. Michael Lewis, the author of “The Blind Side” noted that college sports are not what the NCAA say they are. In an interview for Frontline, Lewis said, “College sports is professional in every aspect, but one. They don’t pay the labor. You got a labor force that is essentially indentured servants.” These students have the economic value, but can’t benefit from it due to a system that operates opposite of the free market. The current system does not allow students to make the money they are valued as players to the NCAA and their university of attendance. In the episode, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and former star player for the University of Florida describes the system as “exploitation.” An interesting and unknown fact is that these amateur athletes are required to sign their rights away before they can ever play a down, or run the courts to make a point. Part III of a NCAA 440-page manual states that as 17 and 18-year-old amateur athletes, they promise to give up their rights for compensation. They also give up the rights to the likeness as athletes. That means for your favorite player on NCAA basketball or football video game on your Sega or Play Station will never see one penny from the sale of these games. In fact the money you collectors use to purchase well-known game DVDs, and retired athletic apparel that is put out by the NCAA never goes to these players as well. You are padding the pockets of the NCAA.

The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, would agree that it is a fair exchange. He reported on Frontline

We provide [athletes] with remarkable opportunities to get an education at the finest universities on earth…to gain access to the best coaches and the best trainers to develop their skills and abilities. So if they have the potential, that small proportion to play in professional sports, we’re helping them to develop those skills and they can do it if they choose to…If they choose to not go on or don’t have the skills and abilities, they get to go on in life and be successful as a young man or young woman.

First, the scholarships that are offered are on average $3000 shy of paying for essential expenses. Next, for those who do have the potential to become professional athletes, their numbers are small. Approximately 1% of college athletes go on to be successful at the professional level. The remaining will have to reach the stars through other arenas. But this daunting pathway is usually paved with many sharp jagged stones and boulders. What do you expect when 16 of this year’s March Madness basketball teams have a track record of graduating half of their players. The Baylor University basketball team during the 2009-2010 academic year graduated 29% of their players. Their football team graduated less than half. The 2008 Georgia National football champions graduated 55% of their players while that year’s basketball team graduated 38%.

For the students that do graduate, such as the promising wide receiver from the University of Alabama, Tyrone Prothro who won an award from the 2006 ESPY ceremony, as well as the Pontiac Game Changing Award, and thought of as once a potential Heisman winner; his professional life now involves being a bank teller down the street from the stadium that he once played at in Alabama. Due to an injury in an Alabama vs. Florida game during his junior year, he never played again. On the other hand, many do not end up like Rigoberto Nuñez of the 1996 Final Four University of Massachusetts basketball team. After graduating, he has a successfully career in college admissions. He asserted on Real Sports that he is not the norm. In fact, many athletes are not so lucky. He even jokes with the term “college athlete.” Nuñez said, “You are not there to graduate. You’re there to stay eligible or take enough courses that will keep you on the court.” Chaz Ramsey, University of Auburn football player in 2007 reported to Real Sports that his coach was famous for saying that academics is number one (while holding up 2 fingers) and football is number two (while holding up one finger).

Many of these players who are injured later are dropped from the team and lose their scholarship. Some later drop out of school completely. Due to a 1973 ruling, college and universities cannot offer more than one-year scholarships at a time to any player. If a player gets hurt or does not produce the stats expected by coaches, they have the option to not offer additional scholarships. Simply put, these players are seen as unsalvageable and dispensable. To many economists, this transaction would be deemed as a compensation for specific skills. Therefore it is a professional job.

As Wu Tang put it in C.R.E.A.M, “cash moves everything around me, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill ya.” In 2009 the University of Texas football program earned $94 million. During the same year, 14 top executives of the NCAA earned $425,000. The top executive in charge of the Sugar Bowl made $645,386 in 2008. The 2008 Georgia bulldog football team earned 18 million. During Tyrone Prothro’s time at Alabama, the football program earned 125 million over a three-year period. The current coach of Kentucky basketball earns $4 million a year. The University of Kansas basketball coach, Bill Self makes 3 million. The predecessor of Mark Emmert earned 1.7 million. In a 14-year contract between the NCAA and CBS, Turner Broadcasting, to televise March Madness, the NCAA will earn 10.8 billion. This estimates to approximately 700 million a year. We cannot forget the millions and millions that come through endorsements to teams and coaches through companies such as Nike, Addidas, AT&T, and etc. The NCAA would note that the 90% they earn (ticket sales, media rights, and etc.) as a non-profit organization goes to support the sports that do not earn the amounts basketball and football earn. An argument I find imprudent.

It is evident that the majority of players on college football and basketball are Black males. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual study, “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” They noted that 91 percent of white and 59 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduated in 2010. Moreover, the gap between Black and White basketball players increased to 32 percentage points. In regards to football,

among the 70 bowl-bound teams this year, the [graduation rate] for African-American football student- athletes is 60 percent, up from 58 percent in 2009. The [graduation rate] for white football student athletes went from 77 percent last year to 80 percent this year. Overall, this reflects a 20 percentage point gap, which is up one percentage point from last year.

The exploitation of Black males is nothing new in this country. Not counting slavery, one could account for today’s Black males incarcerated. Angela Davis argues that the prison industrial complex pumps through the veins of capitalism. For example, the proliferation of the prison industrial complex is enmeshed with the U.S. economy and major companies in an effort to produce good for companies such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom (produces jeans called Prison Blues), Compaq, Motorola, Revlon, Chevron (prisoners enter data), Victoria Secrets, and TWA (telephone reservations). Prisoners work at a fraction of the pay that the general public would make. This from free labor of Black males is nothing new to this country. Pulitzer Prize recipient, Douglas Blackmon, unmasked the lie that many Americans walk around believing in regards to the end of the enslavement of Blacks within the United States.

Within his national bestseller, “Slavery by Another Name,” Blackmon exposes that Blacks, especially Black males, from the end of the Civil War until World War II were forced into involuntary slavery within states such as Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, through human labor trafficking for companies that dealt with pine tar, coal mines, road construction, timber mills, farm laborers, digging drainage ditches, These men were horribly abused physically and mentally. A narrative of a man who was forced into slavery said that he was whipped due to the fact that he did not know to ditch:

I was whipped because I did not know how to ditch—laid me down flat on my stomach, one man on my head and another man to hold my legs, and whipped me across my back, my cloths were on. I was whipped with a piece of stick about as big as a broom handle. I got 25 licks. I was whipped about every day.’

Others were sadistically flogged with leather straps dipped in syrup and sand, fists, and clubs. Men like him were initially jailed on trumped-up charges and kidnapped by local law enforcement. In order to pay off court cost or fines for these false charges, many were sold to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once bought, the men could not leave until the money owed the new master. This never occurred. All of this occurred under the proverbial noses of the federal and state bodies of government. The end was not insight until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Due to the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that U.S. enemies within the World War II could exploit the status of Blacks as second-class citizens, he then called federal prosecutors and J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, to mount an aggressive stance to eliminate the enslavement that was occurring.

Today’s high profile college sports are simply a continuation of the exploitation of Black males. The cycle of oppression continue to flourish and engulf us all. My goal of this was not to cause you to no longer love sports or cheer for those you admire. I simply want that the next time you think before you buying a Nike endorsed jersey or attend your next over priced college stadium sporting event, or take a bite from that fatty hotdog. Just recall that we as a society need to become more aware of the wealthy males we are helping as they continue to bleed out mostly poor and Black males. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in the oppression of the immobilized in the 21st century.

Racism and Personal Worth

If you’re one of those people who are wondering why our so-called economic recovery is passing you by here’s why: Thanks to the devastating economic collapse that has plagued our nation for the last several years we know:

1. Wealth has, with the assistance of federal policies and tax breaks, flowed into the hands of the few to an unprecedented extent. The top decile of pre-tax income earning Americans accounts for 50 percent of the total income of U.S. families—the highest level since 1917, with the top 1 percent of wage earners controlling nearly a quarter of the nation’s total income.
2. Wealth disparities are falling disproportionately on people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34%) of African American and 29% of Latino children live below the poverty level in the U.S.
3. Nearly half of African Americans born into middle-class families have spiraled down into the bottom 20% of income distribution compared to 16% of white children.
4. Between 1984 and 2007 the wealth gap between blacks and whites increased four- fold. (Some sources here and here)

These facts not only reveal the increasing immiseration of people of color, but of working class and middle class whites. They are realizing the fallacy of the American Dream as they struggle to survive in the face of increasing costs for food and fuel and devaluation in personal property and assets.

People of color have long been on the short end, receiving far less compensation for wages and, as I have shown in my book, injuries awarded by judges and juries. The color of one’s skin not only affects employment, housing, educational, and health opportunities and outcomes, it follows some people to the grave. The question is “If you were queen or king for a day, which one of our social institutions would you try to reform and how would you do it?”

(Dr. H. Roy Kaplan is in the Department of Africana Studies, University of South Florida, and is author of The Myth of Post-Racial America: Searching for Equality in the Age of Materialism.

Austerity and Poverty are Not Shared in This Bush Depression: New UFE Report

United for a Fair Economy has a new pdf report (see here for free downloadable copy) on the greater impact of this Bush Depression on people of color, and focuses on the impact on black Americans and Latinos. A few of their conclusions are these:

Blacks earn 62 cents for every dollar of white income, and Latinos earn 68 cents for every dollar of white income; Blacks and Latinos are 2.9 and 2.7 times as likely, respectively, to live in poverty than whites; Black and Latino children are 3.3 and 2.9 times as likely, respectively, to live in poverty than white children.

These proportions of about three fifths have hung around now for many decades in the data we have on black Americans. The data on Latinos are not as lengthy, but these are likely true going back for decades too, for Mexican Americans and other Latinos. They provide much more detailed data on the economic situations of these groups.

They also make some very good suggestions for change, including programs to protect people with homes in loan trouble, getting rid of low taxes (Bush taxes) on the rich, and focusing on programs to help especially high unemployment areas. There is much good data in this report, and it is readable for students. It is noteworthy that the corporate-controlled mainstream media give little attention to the crisis level economic conditions in communities of color.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux on Surviving and Thriving in America

Over at Dr. Boyce’s fine blog, Dr. Julianne Malveaux (President – Bennett College and economist and founder of Last Word Productions, Inc.) has some interesting comments on positive aspects of Black Americans surviving and thriving drawing on her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.
(Photo: from her website here)

A prolific book and article writer on racial issues (USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Progressive), in this commentary Malveaux makes some key points about progress under great oppression for African Americans. First she notes the data on the dismal conditions that systemic racism has brought:

When I look at the data that define the reality for African Americans in the economy, I am often alarmed and discouraged. One in four African American lives in poverty. Nearly one in three is out of work. . . . This is hardly the first time African Americans have experienced disproportionate pain.

But in spite of these and many other disturbing statistical data, she reminds us all that

even in harsh times African Americans have been more than survivors, we have been thrivers. We have made it despite horrible conditions, despite unfairness, despite racism. The playing field has never been level, and yet we have played on the slanted field, returning, returning, and sometimes winning.

She discusses numerous cases of those who have survived and thrived against high odds. Here are just a few:

Madame C.J. Walker is on the book’s cover, and everyone knows about this first self-made woman millionaire in the United States, but few know of Maggie Lena Walker, the woman who started the Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia. . . . The most powerful acts of economic history, acts at our foundation, were those African Americans who bought their own freedom. . . . I wrote my book because everyone needs to know about self-emancipation, about the will and the tenacity of people of African descent.

After noting too how enslaved African Americans not only bought their own freedom but that of relatives, Malveaux ends her commentary with a timely call for yet more collective efforts:

And so we need Kwanzaa now more than ever. We need the principle of Ujamaa – cooperative economics. The statistics tell a grim story about our status, but our history is a compelling reminder that in good times and in bad, African Americans have survived and thrived.

I have recently heard Malveaux speak at the U. Pittsburgh conference on racism issues last summer. If you get the chance to hear her, I encourage you to do so. She is one of the powerful thinkers and speakers on race and racism issues in the US today.
Thinking about her book and comments, I would suggest this: They say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but it seems that eternal organization may be even more important.

Racist Cupcakes? Ministrelsy Persists

The Vancouver Sun has a story about a new cupcake/cake glaze product. The commercial company DH had the film company Filmaka create some YouTube commercials

designed to portray how the new product “makes dessert sing.” The first video in the series was themed “hip hop”, created by director Josh Biner. In it, a series of vanilla cupcakes sit on a counter until topped with the chocolate flavoured Amazing Glazes – as the glaze hits them they sprout lips and eyes and break into singing and dancing.

Clearly, the company’s media staff is not familiar with (or did not think it serious racism) the long racist tradition of blackface minstrelsy– in which images of Black Americans (such as big lips and buggy eyes) are stereotyped in extreme and degrading ways for white entertainment—now for at least 180 years or so

The Sun notes too the music that went with the commercials, which were quickly pulled from Youtube when there were protests:

[They] chose not to soundtrack the commercial with hip hop, but an instrumental electronic and beatbox track. Hip hop magazine The Source furthers the argument: “First, they aren’t even rapping! If you’re going to have inanimate food objects make music then they should at least have a real song or beat.”

Reportedly, nearly 20,000 people viewed these racist-image commercials. Was this commonplace ignorance of our extremely racist history, or much more? I suspect many whites (and some others) today do not see this type of conventional racial imagery as racist mocking and like old minstrelsy.

This is What Institutional Racism Looks Like

Concepts like ‘institutional racism’ can be hard to get a firm hold on sometimes.  Then, along comes a perfectly illustrative example, and it’s really clear what institutional racism looks like.

This week NPR reported the shocking details of the funding behind Arizona’s immigration law.  Private prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), among those who were the primary drafters and proponents of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation.  The law would systematically fill Arizona’s prisons with hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned undocumented immigrants in a way never done before.  And, at the same time, it would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies who are in the business of housing them.

Montana jail

(Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: harrachglass)

The private prison industry is a result of neoliberalism which holds that “the market” is a better solution for society’s problems than government.   When it comes to the private prison industry, the “pitch” to local communities is that these are industries that provide a “stable employment base.”   Some of this comes through on the CCA website:

“currently holds approximately 75,000 inmates including males, females, and juveniles at all security levels, in more than 60 facilities under contract for management in 19 states and the District of Columbia.  CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), nearly half of all states and more than a dozen local municipalities. Since its inception, CCA has maintained its market leadership position in private corrections, managing more than 50 percent of all beds under contract with such providers in the United States.  … The company also provides valuable economic benefits to its local community partners by paying property, sales and other taxes, and providing a stable employment base that focuses on building careers with unlimited growth and development opportunities. As a strong corporate citizen, recognized by Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine, CCA contributes generously to host communities through volunteerism and charitable giving.”

Of course, what doesn’t get addressed in the glossy corporate promotion materials is that the prison-industrial complex is one of the central mechanisms that maintains the stark institutional racism that characterizes the U.S.  The fact is that those who are incarcerated are disproportionately black and brown folks, even though lawbreakers are fairly even distributed across racial groups.    This is what Michelle Alexander has referred to as The New Jim Crow.

Who is running the private prison industry, you may ask?  For the most part, it’s wealthy, white men like John Ferguson, head of CCA.

As the rest of the economy tanks, state economies shrivel, and prisons now look more clearly like the economic drain they always have been, the private prison industry has suffered some losses. The industry is in a position now where it has to scramble in order to keep offering a “stable employment base” and continue to profit off of this new form of institutional racism.  The industry leaders point to immigration detention as the growth sector that will save them.    This is from a February 2009 article about CCA:

“Corrections Corporation of America’s share prices sunk Tuesday after it announced lower earnings than expected in its annual report, but executives said they are “bullish” about the leading private prison provider’s long term future. Even as states cut their corrections budgets, immigrant detainees will provide CCA a steady source of income.
‘The detainee growth will come from lots of sources,” CCA CEO John Ferguson told analysts during a telephone conference call. “So there is no reason to believe that these populations won’t just creep up over time.’

And, clearly from the NPR report, people like Ferguson are willing to draft legislation and get it passed that ensures that the population continues to “creep up” and along with CCA’s profits.

If you’ve followed news about prisons in the U.S. for awhile, none of this is particularly surprising although it is still shocking somehow.  What’s so very important about the NPR report is that it offers a rare glimpse into the way that policies and legislation that have a huge negative impact on black and brown people get created by a handful of powerful, white men as they, and others like them, stand to benefit.    This is what institutional racism looks like.

Arizona’s SB 1070 and the State’s Minimum Wage

U.S. citizens uncertain about Arizona’s new immigration law would do well to remember who has been doing the actual hard labor under the hot desert sun long before Arizona became a state in 1912. Like the rest of the U.S., Arizona was initially Native American land. It used to be part of the Territory of New Mexico. During Lincoln’s administration, Congress made it a separate territory in 1863. Both Arizona and New Mexico have been territories of the U.S. since 1848, following President Polk’s two-year war with Mexico. At that juncture, Arizona had less than 1,000 Hispanics, 4,040 “Indians,” and 2,421 whites. 1848 was the same year the famous Kit Carson rounded up the Navajo with the help of American soldiers and the Ute. After, 8,000 Navajo were forced to undertake the Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. The Navajo were permitted to return in 1868, but the Apache continued to resist until the Chiricahua were forcibly relocated to Florida in 1886. Today, more than 14 tribes live on 20 reservations, and Arizona reminds us of Geronimo and Cochise, the great chiefs who fought Indian removals. Although initially sparsely populated, Arizona has been slowly transformed from the wild, unbearably sun-scorched terrain it used to offer residents to the moment the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix air-conditioned the hotel in 1962. Indeed, the air-conditioner is most responsible for turning Arizona into a tourist destination, enhancing the state’s economic engines in copper, cotton, cattle, citrus, and electronics. Two-thirds of the U.S.’s copper is still mined there, and mining has been king since gold and silver dwindled and electricity gave the metal value in the 1870s.

When mining, cotton, cattle and citrus were introduced, who largely provided the work force? Arizona’s economy has always depended on the region’s minority people for cheap common labor, on Native Americans and on the Spanish-speakers who have lived in the desert long before Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Arizona has always offered more work opportunities than residents can handle, and for that reason it used to welcome and even encouraged Mexicans to cross the border to help upgrade its ranches and farms. That commerce progressively altered Arizona from a suffocating wilderness used by outlaws into a chic, spa-and-golf environment used by movie stars and the rich since Marilyn Monroe lounged at the Biltmore.

That is why Arizona’s recent SB 1070 law is so stunning and incomprehensible. Arizona, of course, is not the only state or part of the country that has relied on immigrant, cheap labor to turn our economies into global world market leaders. Texas, California–name most states or U.S. regions–and economists will tell us that cheap, foreign-hands labor has been in there doing the hard manual work needed to transform society’s infrastructure, promoting and giving visibility to “Progress.” Since many “illegal aliens” historically leave their countries to throw in their fates and the futures of their children with the regions that have employed their skills and talents for generations, isn’t it rather thankless now to disinvite and actually to throw them out of the U.S.? These workers have long survived on pauper’s wages. Our country has labeled them “illegal,” allowing our citizens to pay the “aliens” whatever we have wanted. But since January 1, 2009, Arizonians have had to pay them at least $7.25 per hour of work, too. Illegal workers interviewed by Univision now say that not enough people are hiring them off the curbs where for years they used to be picked up to cut grass, repair homes, and provide other services. How fair is it to use language–to mix our good, reliable workers with “terrorists” and “drug gangsters,” as Arizona’s new immigration law does? What SB 1070 underscores is that whites who voted for it enjoy being domineering.

Marco Portales is a Texas A&M professor and author of Why Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata Wore Cananas: A 100th Year Photo History of the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1928. (Copies available from

Black Unemployment in the U.S.: So Bad the UN is Investigating

The level of black unemployment in the U.S. is so bad that the United Nations is launching an investigation.  And, indeed the figures on unemployment by race are grim for blacks, especially black men.  The latest unemployment figures show a stark racial disparity. For black men, the unemployment rate was 20.2%, compared to 9.6% unemployment for white men.  (Of course, these numbers are low given that “discouraged workers,” those who are no longer looking for employment, are not included, nor are those who are incarcerated.)   The outrageously high unemployment among black Americans means the United States has failed to live up to commitments it made under United Nations human rights agreements, a coalition of advocacy groups charges (pdf), according to a recent report by City Limits.

In a filing to the UN’s Human Rights Council last week, a group that includes New York’s Urban Justice Center and National Employment Law Project, casts “the over-representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities in unemployment, underemployment, and poverty” as a human rights issue and calls on Washington “to take specific steps to create employment opportunities for these groups.”  Thus far, the U.S. permanent mission to the U.N. has not commented.

These stark numbers unemployment figures reflect an egregious reality of ongoing discrimination and historical structural inequality in the U.S. that has placed an especially harsh burden on the shoulders of black men, according to a report from the Center for American Progress called “Weathering the Storm” (pdf):

Black men’s ability to access high-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector played a significant role in building the black middle class after World War II. Yet those jobs have steadily declined in the past several decades. A study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that the share of African Americans in manufacturing jobs fell from 23.9 percent in 1979 to 9.8 percent in 2007. Blacks were actually 15 percent less likely than other groups in 2007 to have a job in manufacturing. These jobs have also been among the first cut in this recession, accelerating the decline of available positions with decent pay for black men.

Black men have also been disproportionately affected by the instability in the automotive industry. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that African Americans have above average employment and earn much higher wages in auto industry jobs than in other industries. If one or more domestic automakers were to file for bankruptcy, more than 3 million jobs could be lost within the next year, a result that would be especially devastating for African Americans.

Black workers have not only suffered from a severe decline in decent employment opportunities, but they have also faced decreasing rates of unionization related to the shrinking manufacturing industry. Unionized African-American workers on average earn higher wages than nonunion black workers with similar characteristics. From 2004 to 2007, the median unionized black worker earned about $17.51 per hour, compared to $12.57 per hour for the median nonunion black worker. Unionized black workers were also more likely to have health insurance and pension plans than nonunion black workers.

The employment rates of African-American men remained stagnant even during the economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s. The group’s continued high unemployment rates and inability to achieve prior employment peaks even after many years of a strong economy are influenced by multiple factors, including high rates of incarceration, limited education, child support arrearages, and discrimination.

Ongoing discrimination is a factor as well.  As Joe Feagin and Melvin Sykes note in their book, Living with Racism (1993), even highly educated, middle class blacks face routine, persistent discrimination in employment and a host of other arenas of everyday life.   Devah Pager’s research of nearly 1,500 employers in New York City found that black applicants without criminal records are no more likely to get a job than white applicants just out of prison. The statistics from the study also suggested that employer discrimination against people of color and ex-offenders has significantly undermined the job opportunities for young black men with little education and training. And, more recently, Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow (2010), details the system of mass incarceration that contributes to keeping black men trapped in a subordinate status.

This systemic oppression gets multiplied when there is any sort of downturn in the economy and the current recession has hit black men particularly hard, with unemployment rates expected to rise even higher.

The fact is that the population of out of work black men is not monolithic. It includes young guys and middle-aged men, ex-convicts and aspiring entrepreneurs, the college educated and those who didn’t finish high school.  Yet, the fact remains that there is a systemic difference in unemployment rates that’s so egregious, so pervasive, so persistent over decades in the U.S., that it’s now an issue worthy of examination as a violation of international human rights by the United Nations.

Institutional Racism in Employment and Unemployment, Again

Aaron Glatnz has a good but too brief article at NewAmericaMedia on the continuing racial impact of the Bush recession/depression on the US, with its still 9.7 percent unemployment rate:

The unemployment rate for whites held steady at 8.8 percent compared to February and went down for Asians from 8.4 percent to 7.5 percent. But it rose to 16.5 percent for blacks from 15.8 percent. Hispanics showed a slight increase as well from 12.4 percent to 12.6 percent.

White and Asian Americans, according to these statistics, are not hurting as much as groups of workers as black and Latino Americans. One major reason for the differential is that governments are now cutting public services on a huge scale, as a quote from Seth Wessler, a researcher at the Applied Research Center, indicates:

“If the bus line you depend on is cut, it’s impossible to look for a job or even hold onto the one you have . . . and we know that across the country – from New York to Los Angeles – bus service is being cut and fares are increasing.”

Glatnz also quotes Peter Edelman, director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy at the Georgetown University, about where job growth will come as the economy presumably recovers:

“The jobs that we project over the next decade that are reasonably well paying involve a degree of skills and a degree of preparation…and people of color have disparate educational attainment,” and will be less able to land that work without an associates degree or certificate from a local community college.

Census jobs may help some communities, but only temporarily and with modest paying jobs. They will be gone soon. And inequality in education looms again as a large factor in maintaining the systemic racism still foundational in this society.

There are many angles to this sorry story, and one recent one is how poorer American students are increasingly dropping out of college or seeking out the weak diploma mill colleges as a solutions to soaring costs. One recent investigative report by Peter Byrne discusses this issue in connection with an assessment of the situation of the University of California’s wealthy regents who are business investors, such as the chair of the regents who

has an abiding interest in education—a financial interest: while serving as chairman of the Regents, and head of the investment committee, he took control of a very profitable, national network of “diploma mills,” worth about $3 billion. These “career education” schools rely on federally subsidized student loans to generate profits that are then privately invested. Some of Blum’s schools have been investigated by government agencies (and sued by individuals) for, allegedly, delivering substandard educations, and, allegedly, concentrating on generating government-guaranteed student loan revenue at the expense of providing students with quality educations.

This article discusses the “creeping privatization of the University of California system,” a reality that means

as the UC system becomes increasingly expensive (and racially exclusive), lower income students are turning toward diploma mills.

The same is likely true for other major universities across the country. This is a structural and national problem, not just a local one, as the country becomes ever more unequal along racial and class lines.