High unemployment (and underemployment) leads to financial poverty.
“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967
In the next three series installments, we will try to establish the relationship between poverty and violence. This week, we will discuss the poverty of income, and next week the poverty of spirit. Then we will show how capitalist institutions impose a poverty of income and spirit on Black men, thereby helping to create violence in Black men and in the Black community.
Opinion: What will it take for Black men to heal? Part 5
Poverty of finance
Poverty of finance is related to one’s income or financial wealth. For the super-rich, or well-to-do, finances include land, businesses, stocks and bonds. But for middle- or low-income people, finance is tied primarily to income.
When we look at incomes, we see that 37 million Americans live below the poverty line, which is $19,971 for a family of four. That’s what the U.S. government tells us through the census.
However, there are 90 million Americans, almost one-third of the nation, that are struggling to make ends meet: to pay the mortgage or rent, to pay utilities, to put food on the table, to pay child care, or to pay for our children’s education, even pay for gas to get to and from work and to and from that once-a-week dinner with the family at a local restaurant.
The government won’t say it, but this 90 million, which includes incomes up to $40,000 a year, are poor as well. They’re families struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck.
In looking at African Americans (25 percent of whom live in poverty), we see that the unemployment rate for Black youth 16-19 is 30.6 percent, which is more than double that of White youth (13.3 percent). Overall, unemployment for Black men is 8.2 percent, at least twice that of White Americans, which is 3.9 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).
Of course, the highest unemployment is among African American men 20 years and older, at 8.4 percent, a 2.4 percent higher rate than African American women at six percent (see Young African American Unemployment by Ariel White, Black Press USA.com). But these statistics hardly tell the story. Many Black males are not even counted in the statistics, since many of them have dropped out of the job market.
On the other hand, some of those still looking are not finding work, especially in major metropolitan cities. For example, in New York City, a city-commissioned report said that, due to changes in the city’s structural economy and outright discrimination, the employment of African American men ages 16-64 dropped 12.2 percent. It said that only 52.8 percent of African American men were employed in 2003.
In other words, 48.2 percent of Black men were unemployed in New York City in 2003. The major culprits, it said, were the loss of some 13,000 manufacturing jobs and discrimination.
The report said that many Black males have felonies, and White employers used these felonies to keep from hiring them. This use of felonies was also mentioned by The Wall Street Journal. They reported on a study that showed White men with criminal records having a better chance of being called back for a second interview than a Black man without a criminal record (see A Crisis in Black Male Employment: Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2003 by the Community Services Society, from the New York Amsterdam News, March 18, 2004).
Do you think White employers use felonies to deny Black men jobs in other large cities?
Due to a changing economy, discrimination, and the fact that some Black men have given up on looking for jobs, poverty is increasing for many Black Americans at the same time that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening.
To heal, we must do more than get job trainings. We must change the policies on felonies and confront those (can you say “sue”?) who deny us an equal opportunity for a living-wage job and a slice of the American dream.
Next week: poverty of spirit.
Mac Walton welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.