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Building a ‘Fair Economy’ Must Remain a Top Goal

February 1, 2012

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As we usher in 2012, it remains disheartening that unemployment rates for African-Americans and Latinos/Hispanics remain in the double digits, largely unchanged since this time last year. Far more must be done to address disparities in access and opportunity which plague minorities nationwide. As I have said repeatedly, special barriers confronting our most vulnerable citizens — low-income and communities of color — must be addressed and systematically dismantled.

In early January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December 2011 unemployment data revealed that the unemployment rate for Whites was 7.5 percent while the rates for Blacks and Hispanics was 15.8 percent and 11.0 percent, respectively. The unemployment rate for African-Americans, 16-19 years of age, stands at an alarming 42.1 percent. As noted in a recent UC Berkley Labor Center report, Black unemployment rates are higher now than they were at the official end of the recession in June 2009. This is terribly daunting and unacceptable.

I appreciate President Obama’s commitment toward building a fair economy that “works for everyone” as stated in his recent State of the Union Address. I, along with the Lawyers’ Committee, will continue to work with the Administration to advance effective strategies and tactics toward achieving this critical goal.

The President’s plan for producing more jobs, small business growth and job training is a crucial step in the right direction, however, I encourage the President and his Administration to be vigilant about incorporating comprehensive strategies across agencies via the administrative and legislative process that directly combat the underlying problems leading to racial disparities. African-Americans/Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos have not received a fair shot and not everyone plays by the same rules. This is why targeted strategies must be employed to ensure that minority students and workers obtain equitable education opportunities, job training and professional development, and access to fairly compete for current and future jobs.

Some key strategies which I continue to believe are critical underpinnings of the current jobs crisis include:
Employers’ misuse of credit checks and/or criminal histories

Although some states have worked to address employers’ misuse of criminal background checks, arrest records and/or credit checks as a condition for employment and/or promotion, many have failed to do so. Recent reports estimate that approximately 60 percent of employers use credit checks and approximately 92 percent use criminal histories to screen job applicants – often illegally.

Discriminatory practices in employment exacerbate socio-economic conditions of minority and low-income communities and continue to undermine unemployment programs.

It is encouraging to see the more aggressive enforcement of the civil rights laws by the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor directly challenging these criminal background and arrest record discriminatory practices.

Pay gap between men and women, particularly women of color

Disparities in pay between men and women in the workforce also continue to exist. Gender equity issues still affect the ability of many working families to move ahead. On average, full-time working women receive only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. Full-time African American women are paid only 61 cents and Latinas only 52 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. This disparity translates into a loss to American families of financial resources totaling $10,622 a year or $431,000 over a woman’s lifetime.

Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act to eliminate these gross disparities is critical.

Opportunity gap in education for students of color

A quality education for ALL children, including those of immigrant families, is a civil right which is vital to the stability of this country. Federal accountability is vital towards achieving this goal. Targeted intervention, to support high poverty, high minority schools that are under-resourced should not be left to the states, but must be mandatory in all schools if we are to eliminate the education and economic gap between the minority and majority population in this country. The lack of affordable housing and ongoing unfair housing practices perpetuate segregated communities and concentrations of poverty in our nation. Since segregated schools with a high concentration of minority students have a greater likelihood of being under-resourced, diversity in schools must not be an afterthought, but a requirement if American students are to compete in this global economy. I will continue to work with this Administration in support of recent efforts (PIC Guidance) to encourage diversity in schools and urge more public pronouncements about the importance of this goal.

In addition, we must remedy other discriminatory practices present in our nation’s classrooms such as harsher punishments. For example, a recent Yale University Child Study Center study shows that Black children, especially boys, regardless of their family income, receive less attention, harsher punishment and lower marks in school than their White counterparts from kindergarten through college. Also, some school jurisdictions, as reported by the Washington Post recently, expel or suspend Black students two to five times more often than White children.

Other factors contributing to Stagnant Unemployment Rates for African-Americans

As a the UC Berkeley report shows, other factors contribute to the continuing high unemployment rate for African-Americans such as at least 600,000public sector jobs being cut since the start of the recession; “about one in five black workers have public sector jobs, and African-American workers are one-third more likely than white ones to be employed in the public sector.”

According to economists, other factors which could lead to a higher unemployment rate include: The black workforce is younger than the white workforce, lower numbers of blacks get a college degree and many live in areas of the country that were harder hit by the recession.

It is indeed a disgrace that Black unemployment has been roughly double that of whites since the government began tracking the figures in 1972. This continues to threaten the ongoing decimation of Black wealth (already 1/50th that of Whites). Immediate and long-term targeted solutions, along with legislative fixes, are long overdue to remedy this massive quagmire.

Barbara Arnwine is executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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