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Trump’s Bid to Pit Black and Brown Workers Against Each Other

President Trump has resurrected an old canard in his effort to sell a new effort to restrict immigration into the United States. The legislation he backs, he said at a White House ceremony, was necessary in part to protect “minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals” under the current immigration system.

This theme is a hardy perennial in right-wing media and think-tank reports, often featuring members of a small but persistent cadre of conservative black people willing to be the face of the pernicious idea that in order to boost the fortunes of African Americans, we have to keep new immigrants out of the country.

This notion keeps getting debunked, but Trump trotted it out anyway as his administration launches key assaults against the core concerns of African-American people.

This comes the same week as news reports that the Justice Department is gearing up a new assault on affirmative action programs at colleges, based on the lie that these programs discriminate against white and Asian college applicants.

Career civil-rights lawyers in the Justice Department are so aghast at the idea that their agency’s efforts are being redirected from addressing the continuing effects of structural racism that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to use political appointees and outside lawyers to lead the effort.

Remember that this pronouncement also is in the shadow of a speech Trump gave before police officers in Long Island, New York, in which he encouraged police officers to rough up criminal suspects.

“[W]hen you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump told the assembly of law enforcement officers.

Even people in his own administration denounced the speech as inappropriate, as did prominent police chiefs. Later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed Trump’s comment as a joke.

But in African-American communities around the country, where the drumbeat of stories of police officers using clearly unwarranted deadly force against African Americans continues to reverberate, no one was laughing.

Vice senior editor Wilbert Cooper convincingly took on the black-people-harmed-by-immigration myth in a 2016 essay. Not only is it false that immigration of lower-skilled people harms African-American employment prospects, he wrote that “counter to what Trump and others contend, there’s evidence that immigration can actually help low-skilled blacks get back to work.”

Denver University economist Jack Strauss analyzed a wide breadth of data from metropolitan areas across the US in 2013 to determine whether blacks in particular lose out when it comes to immigration. He found there to be a “one-way causation from increased immigration including Latinos to higher black wages and lower poverty.” In other words, immigration is good for black workers. According to Strauss’s summary of his findings, a “1 percent rise in Latino immigration contributes to a 1.4 percent increase in employment rates among African Americans,” and “for every 1 percent increase in a city’s share of Latinos, African median and mean wages increase by 3 percent.”

The reality is, as Cooper writes, cities like Cleveland and Detroit are working to attract immigrants, because of the impact immigrants have on the overall economic vitality of the communities they make their home.

Jobs Tell The Story

On Friday, the federal government will release an updated picture of the nation’s employment situation. The previous report, covering June, showed that the nation’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent, and African-American unemployment was 7.1 percent, down significantly from 8.8 percent in June 2016.

The significant decrease in black unemployment is in itself a direct rebuke to the idea that drastic measures to restrict immigration are necessary to lower unemployment rates in African-American communities.

What that progress affirms that economic growth combined with economic justice and fairness is essential to closing the gaps between black, brown and white employment prospects.

What The Nation Needs

What the nation needs is not an assault on immigration, but an assault on the effects of structural racism and economic inequality. Instead of dismantling affirmative action, we need investments in schooling for African-American children that start at preschool – and before.

We need to reinvest in communities that have been left behind by the free-market idolatry of too many state governments and, now, the federal government itself. We need every worker to have a living wage and access to affordable housing.

Above all, we need to end the assaults on the fundamental dignity of African-American people – from the coded reference to “thugs” who need to be roughed up by police to the active exalting by White House officials of the nostrums of white nationalism.

Thanks but no thanks, President Trump. The overwhelming majority of African Americans don’t want your faux paternalism at the expense of our immigrant brothers and sisters.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on August 3, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

The Federal Reserve and Black Unemployment

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) that determines U.S. monetary policy met in July.  Its job is to weigh the state of the American economy, both the labor market and inflationary pressures to set policy.  In an interesting note, its discussion of the labor market explicitly noted the condition of the African American and Hispanic unemployment rates.  More than just an aside, reflecting on the status of June’s labor market the minutes of the meeting show the following note:

“The unemployment rates for African Americans and for Hispanics stayed above the rate for whites, al­though the differentials in jobless rates across the different groups were similar to those before the most recent recession.”

While it is good the FOMC notes the damage its policies may be doing to the African American community, it unfortunately appears too simplistic in understanding the dynamics of the market and how the growth in labor demand affects the African American community.  It is simplistic because it appears to say that nothing has changed; that while the African American unemployment rate of 8.6% was on par with its pre-recession level of 8.4% in March 2007, when the white unemployment rate was 3.8%, little different than June’s 4.3%.  This suggests, the relative position of African Americans is fixed, immutable by macro-economic dynamics, so this lamentable gap corresponds to the best level of African American unemployment that can be reached.  In short, we must be near full employment.

Here is what the June report showed in detail.  The unemployment rate for adult African Americans (older than 25) with Associates Degrees was 3.0%, well below the unemployment rate for white high school graduates 4.2% rate.  This was a first since the recession began, for better educated African Americans to have unemployment rates lower than less educated whites.  In July 2015, African Americans with Associate Degrees had a 4.8% unemployment rate compared to white high school graduates lower 4.4% rate.

Further unnoticed, is that at the depths of the labor market downturn, the employment-to-population ratio for African Americans (the share of people with jobs) fell to 51.0% in July 2011, but had grown by June to 56.1%, a five percentage point gain, but a 10% increase.  For whites, on the other hand, the EPOP had grown only from 59.3% to 60.2%, less than one percentage point.

So, the change in unemployment rates is deceptive.  The African American unemployment rate is improving on a strong growth in employment and in the relative improvement resulting from less discrimination in hiring.  That success has further encouraged the rise in labor force participation for African Americans; which has the perverse effect of fighting against a lower unemployment rate, because it increases the number looking unsuccessfully.

The problem for African Americans is that they face much higher probabilities of enduring long spells of unemployment.  African Americans, of the same educational attainment and with the same cognitive skill levels (the so-called test score gap often mistakenly attributed as a measure of inferior schooling) as whites, face a fifty percent greater chance of being thrown into a long spell of unemployment.  And, once having fallen into that labor market quicksand, face about a third less chance of escaping.  The result is that massive levels of unemployment, like the Great Recession spawned, result in a very long queue of unemployed African Americans.  That long line can only clear by a similarly long and sustained recovery to pluck the unemployed back among the employed.

Put it simply, the unemployment rate is a snapshot composed of the probability of becoming unemployed plus the inability to escape unemployment; so it is a much more complex picture when large numbers of people are unemployed for long periods, as they are more likely to be captured by the snapshot.  When unemployment spells are very short, people move out of the frame before the snapshot can be taken.

The unemployment gap is not one of skill, it is the very real and present discrimination prevalent in a labor market where demand for workers is low and the power and caprice of employers is high.  The relative size of the gap can change, if policies push beyond conventional measures of unemployment and underutilization of workers; it is possible to see another answer is possible.

So, it is good that the FOMC at least is aware that macro-economic policies can have a good or bad effect on African Americans.  The next step is for the FOMC to further understand how much a difference it can make.

This is not just important for African Americans.  It is important for the health of the national economy.  First, everyone benefits if we push the labor market to its true and full level of maximum employment; it means more jobs and opportunities for everyone.

Second, because the African American community has such little wealth, when the economy expands, it is a community very sensitive to the interest rate movements and credit availability to catch-up on purchases like cars and making home improvements.  These purchases are fueled by rising employment opportunities and the easing of credit when the FOMC acts to lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.  But, in such a leveraged position, it means that a slowing economy and the loss of jobs quickly turns auto loans and home borrowing into severe household balance sheet nightmares.  Those bad effects spill over to the broader the economy.

Since African American employment is more sensitive to a slowing economy, it means the FOMC has to get it right about understanding when African Americans have reached full employment.  So far, they have consistently guessed at a number that is too high, ending labor market recoveries too soon—and economic expansions too soon for everyone.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on August 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs serves as Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO, and is a professor in, and former Chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

African-American Unemployment Rate Was ‘Virtually Unchanged’ In 2011

Tanya SomanaderAs 2011 progressed, Americans overall saw a slowly decreasing unemployment rate, ticking down from 9.1 percent in January to 8.5 percent in December. However, a new report from UC Berkeley reveals that the unemployment rate for African Americans stayed almost exactly the same. In January of 2011, the unemployment rate for African Americans stood at 15.7 percent. In December, it stood at 15.8 percent.

Even as the underlying factors affecting the overall unemployment rate (employment level, unemployment level, and number of people not in the labor force) changed, African-Americans saw “virtually no movement” in their official rate. The report compares the unemployment rate change by race:

Many factors are contributing to the stubbornly high unemployment rate of African-Americans. Since the recession began, at least 600,000 public sector jobs have been sacrificed for budget cuts. These layoffs fall heaviest on African-Americans, as “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.” Economists also note that the younger age of the African-American workforce, the lower number of college graduates, and the larger number living in low-income areas that were harder hit by the recession are all keeping the rate as high as it is.

Whatever the reasons, the trend is certainly disturbing. As the report notes, “Black male unemployment rates have fallen slightly and Black female unemployment rates have risen. In contrast, unemployment rates for white men and white women have fallen over the same time period.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tanya Somanader is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanya grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio and holds a B.A. in international relations and history from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Tanya was a staff member in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown, working on issues ranging from foreign policy and defense to civil rights and social policy.


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