African Americans still not recovered from Great Recession

Despite claims that the country is in a gradual economic recovery, millions are being thrown into poverty and prolonged joblessness. A recent report highlights the continuing oppression of African-American people.

The Center for American Progress says that continuing gaps in wealth and job opportunities between the white population and the oppressed Black and Brown nations are hampering productivity and living standards. Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, African Americans and Latinos/as have trailed behind whites in regaining employment and raising household incomes.

Their report, entitled “The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy,” notes that “African Americans and Latinos persistently suffer from high unemployment rates. The unemployment rate of African Americans is typically twice as high as that of whites, while the Latino unemployment rate is about one-third greater.” (October 2013)

The actual impact of the downturn has been far more severe than what statistics, absent of analysis, tend to indicate. “It took four years into the recovery for African American employment to reach its prerecession levels,” the report states. However, “These populations, particularly communities of color, have grown at the same time, such that reaching prerecession employment levels masks the real weakness in job growth. African Americans enjoy fewer job opportunities than other groups.”

This study indicates, “The employed share of African Americans in the second quarter of 2013 was a low 53.3 percent, compared to 60.2 percent for Latinos, 60.9 percent for Asian Americans, and 59.5 percent for whites.” For many communities of color, the recession is still very much in evidence.

Opportunities stolen and reversed

Behind these statistics exists a worsening political atmosphere for oppressed groups. One area of grave concern is the declining opportunities in higher education resulting from cutbacks in government allocations.

In an unprecedented action, football players at Grambling State University, in Louisiana, refused to play a game against Jackson State. The students were protesting the slashing of resources needed to maintain their once-outstanding, nationally recognized sports program.

In an open letter, university President Frank G. Pogue said that the boycott pointed to what he and other administrators of other historically Black colleges and universities have been saying for some time. The fact that the federal government has reduced funding for these institutions, which have in decades past provided the bulk of skilled and professional African Americans, points to the crisis of race relations today.

Pogue stressed: “Drastic budget cuts in recent years have pushed many of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the financial brink. Yes, we have reduced athletic budgets. … Frankly, that is a small part of our pain. We have furloughed faculty and staff, asked faculty to take on larger teaching loads, trimmed academic degree offerings and delayed building repairs.” (USA Today, Nov. 3)

These institutions, which grew out of the Reconstruction period after the end of slavery and the Civil War, should be provided with additional funding — rather than less — when African Americans are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. The predicament of the HBCUs is reflective of the lack of commitment of the present Congress and administration to the education of African Americans.

Pogue notes: “At Grambling State, our annual appropriation from the state of Louisiana has been slashed from $31.6 million about six years ago to $13.8 million this academic year — and we anticipate another state budget cut next month. Meanwhile, annual increases in tuition since fiscal 2008 have resulted in a 61 percent increase in tuition and fees. The head of Louisiana’s nine-university system has acknowledged that our university has the worst financial situation of them all.”

The president says that the alumni of the 105 HBCUs help out tremendously, but it is not enough to offset the drastic cuts. While these higher education funding cuts are taking place, African Americans are still being driven into prisons and jails at a phenomenal rate.

Anger rises against national oppression

The response of the African-American and Latin American communities to oppression has been massive and angry. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July, thousands hit the streets across the country.

A recent outbreak of unrest in Austin, Texas, when hundreds of African-American youth took over a shopping area, left authorities in shock. To dismiss this relatively minor show of discontent, which grows directly out of the oppressive conditions of the working people in the community, the corporate media labeled the incident a “riot.”

A sense of foreboding and alarm comes through in the ruling-class analysis. David Paulin wrote on the conservative American Thinker website that “from America’s small towns to urban metropolises, black mob violence has been on the rise in recent years, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge, as the first black president, to bring hope and change to a post-racial America.“ (Oct. 30)

Paulin continues, “Some of the violence has involved rowdy black youths simply raising hell, coming together in threatening flash mobs or converging for events like Miami’s Urban Beach Week; yet many gatherings of black mobs have involved vicious and unprovoked attacks on whites, such as one that recently occurred in Brooklyn, New York. Ten black youths blocked a white couple’s car while shouting racial slurs, then beat up the husband and pulled the wife by hair onto the street.”

Of course, the system of racism and capitalist exploitation knows that any response to national oppression is not unprovoked. Nonetheless, any admission that retaliatory violence is somehow justified, or even understood, would bring the entire system into question.

With another wave of protests surrounding the demand for federal intervention in the death of Lowndes County, Ga., high school student Kendrick Johnson, African-American youth are proving that they are sensitive to and concerned about the rise in racist violence against their communities.

When these youth, allied with adults, organize and mobilize along national and class lines, the struggle for genuine equality and self-determination will make a significant advance. All of these efforts must be unified in a mass movement that extends beyond reliance on the two dominant ruling-class parties.