Just before the G-20
nations met in Pittsburgh September 24-25, I was the keynote speaker
at an Urban Summit hosted by a community group, the Community Empowerment
Association. This African American city-wide organization felt
it important enough to sponsor a meeting that would draw people
from other cities to highlight issues of importance to those who
were hurt the most by policies of the G-20 nations and previously
President Barack Obama spoke to the G-20 Summit gathering
on September 24 and in his opening remarks told of his conversations
with close advisers and others who marveled at the transformation
of Pittsburgh from a working class industrial steel town to a City
with a diverse economy, led by a high tech sector. This is a sign
that Pittsburgh is now connected to the global economy which creates
winners and losers among the work force in many communities. The
loss of industrial jobs eliminated the livelihood of many African
Americans that were located in that sector of the economy and who
were unable to make the transformation to the high tech economy.
to create high-wage jobs in the tech sector that needs financial
services, computer and other kinds of technology. One of the problems
Blacks faced during the high-tech boom of the 1980s was that when
those jobs jumped from 14.4 million in 1996 to 22 million in 2006,
the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported that
Blacks benefitted only marginally. In 2000, only 6.4% of Blacks
were in the computer and electronic manufacturing sector and 7.9%
in information services and data processing, 5.2 in professional
and technical services. So, few Blacks were ready for those jobs.
The CEA brothers and sisters took me on a “walk in
hood” down one of the busiest streets in the Black community, filled
with people going about their ordinary business. This took me
away from statistics into reality, and as I stopped
and talked to people face-to-face it became clear that whether they
were in hair salons or barbershops, in food stores or restaurants,
or just hanging out on the corner, the degree of unemployment was
rife. The building of a tech economy in Pittsburgh had passed
For many of these people the competition for low-wage
jobs also made life difficult, because globalization fuels immigration
and many of the jobs that would have gone to them have been absorbed
by the incoming immigrant population. Attendant to this was the
difficulty they expressed in obtaining help from unions whose application
requirements also included the question of whether or not a person
had a felony status.
The other surprising thing was how many of the African
American males I talked to have a felony status. They explained
how difficult it was, once they had come out of prison, to get started
living like a normal person again, because they were prohibited
from access to public housing, many kinds of jobs, finances for
education, loans for start-up businesses and the like. One barber
I met said he obtained his training in prison, but conference attendees
from other states said you cannot even get a barbers license if
you have a felony status.
A few days later, at the Congressional Black Caucus
annual Weekend, I was pleased to hear that some of its members were
proposing legislation that would roll back some of these laws put
in place during the Newt Gingrich era as a punishment system for
Blacks who they believed were responsible for most of the crime
in America. But this will be a hard fight because so many politicians,
Democrat and Republicans, are tied to the notion that a harsh punishment
system will deter crime, but there is little evidence for this.
Indeed, since 2000 crime has been going down, while incarcerations
rates have skyrocketed.
This is the other Pittsburgh, symbolic of places
all over the country where globalization has wrought the exclusion
of Blacks from the workforce – but few have written or spoken about
it. Instead, solutions move from Reagan trickle-down economics
under Republicans to Keynesian trickle-down economics under Democrats,
both of which are inadequate. The excluded also need change they
can believe in with a roll back in repressive laws and a second
Stimulus Package aimed directly at the bottom of society.
Editorial Board member Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished
Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership
Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race and
of Michigan Press). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.
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1 , 2009
published every Thursday
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Est. April 5, 2002
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