Even though the administration of President Barack Obama has said that the Great Recession has been over for four years, large-scale unemployment and underemployment persist in African-American and Latino/a communities.
The annual National Urban League report, “One Nation Underemployed: Jobs Rebuild America,” makes the not-too-surprising claim that the underemployment rate for African-American workers is 20.5 percent, in comparison with 18.4 percent for Latino/a workers and 11.8 percent for white workers. Underemployed describes those who are working part time or less but are seeking full-time jobs.
The same study also asserts that African Americans are 100 percent more likely as whites to be out of work. The official jobless rate among African Americans was 12 percent in February, compared to 5.8 percent for whites.
These statistics reveal the ongoing racism and national oppression within the U.S. Despite the existence of an African-American president and a Democratic Party administration, no concrete programs exist which seek to employ the tens of millions of the working poor at living wages.
The Obama administration maintains that only private corporations can create jobs, while even profitable firms are not hiring younger workers, particularly those from people-of-color communities.
Massive lay-offs are also being carried out in the service sectors, including banking and retail. Even fast food restaurants and retail chains are announcing closure of outlets that will result in large-scale job losses.
Marc Morial, president of the NUL, told the April 3 Associated Press: “Many Americans are being left behind, and that includes African-Americans and Latinos who are being disproportionately left behind by the job creation that we see. More must be done in post-recession America to try to help people and help communities close these gaps.”
Widening race and class divisions
The analysis of the findings of the NUL report is based upon an “equality index” that examines performance and achievement within the areas of healthcare, education and household wealth. This index takes statistics from various governmental agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the NUL report, African Americans rank as low as 71 percent in comparison with whites in areas of education and health care. Nonetheless, with respect to what they characterize as economic performance, African Americans rank as low as 55 percent.
Figures for 2014 represent a decline in achievement of more than 1 percent for African Americans since last year. These figures are reported at the same time that BLS reports make it appear as if unemployment is declining.
However, what is often not reported is the shrinkage of the labor participation rate, which indicates that more people are dropping out of the job market due to the lack of available employment. When people stop looking for jobs, they are no longer counted as being unemployed and must be measured using other indices.
In regard to the Latino/a population, the so-called “equality index” rose slightly to 75.8 percent in comparison to last year’s 74.6 percent. However, mirroring a similar crisis facing African Americans, there was a decline in the economic performance index from 60.8 percent last year to 60.6 percent this year.
What is most striking about these statistics is the rate of underemployment for African Americans at 20.5 percent. Consequently, those who are even able to find work face a high probability of remaining in poverty.
The Associated Press reported that the NUL is advocating policy reforms designed to pass legislation that will increase the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 or slightly more per hour to $10.10, as advocated by the Obama administration. There are currently petition drives and legislative proposals in some states that would increase wages by less than $3 per hour.
However, the question becomes: Will raising the minimum wage at such a paltry level bring people out of poverty and economic uncertainty? Trade unions such as the Service Employees and worker-centered groups have been waging a national struggle around raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour largely in the areas of fast food service and retail.
Statistically, raising the minimum wage to neither $10.10 nor $15 will be sufficient to bring tens of millions out of poverty, or level the economic field for whites and the nationally oppressed in the U.S. The inequality within the system of wage labor is deeply rooted in the history and legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and modern-day capitalism.
The “equality index,” because it examines performance and achievement in health care, education and household wealth, is crucial in the process of tearing down the walls of institutional racism and class oppression.
During the period of the Great Recession that began in 2007, African Americans and Latinos/as were disproportionately impacted by home foreclosures, evictions and access to quality health care and education.
At present there is no specific program to address these issues rooted in inequality and national oppression. The Obama administration has systematically ignored the plight of African Americans suffering from high unemployment, underemployment, the loss of housing and educational access.
A program called “My Brother’s Keeper” has been announced by the White House. However, the program offers no jobs or scholarships for youth and only advocates “personal responsibility” and “educational achievement,” which do not address the underlying structural problems facing tens of millions of African Americans.
Obama’s signing two executive orders — one raising pay scales for government contract employees and one stipulating no retaliation for employees who openly discuss compensation — will not create any real change in job creation or lift people out of poverty. During 2012 the government conducted business totaling more than $500 billion with companies that pay low wages to employees.
Latino/a youth are plagued by high rates of incarceration, as are African-American youth. The failure of the government to build low- and moderate-income housing has also contributed immensely to the economic crisis facing people-of-color communities.
The answer to low wages, super-exploitation
Measures aimed at raising the minimum wage cannot be successful in the long term without a concerted effort to eliminate racism and national oppression. The failure to address these core issues means that more people will be forced into poverty across the U.S.
The ruling class is only advocating programs that effectively lower wages through the downsizing of the productive workforce, the elimination of unions and the evisceration of public and educational sectors of the economy.
In Detroit and other cities around the U.S. where inequality and racism run rampant, even retirees are facing systematic efforts to rob pension funds and health care programs that have been promised to workers through collective bargaining agreements and previous state legislation.
Consequently, the only ultimate solution to the crisis of low wages, increasing poverty, gender discrimination, institutional racism and national oppression is the transformation of the capitalist system to one based on equality, anti-racism and self-determination.
With the deepening crisis in the capitalist system, more workers and youth will be looking at socialism as an alternative to the exploitation and inequality so prevalent in the U.S. today.