GOP presidential contenders Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich figured out yet another ploy to knock President Obama. Blame him for the near Great Depression level of joblessness among blacks, especially young black males. Both made the claim in their talks to the Republican Leadership Conference. Gingrich got so carried away with this absurd notion that Obama is to blame for the crisis he went completely off the deep end and claimed that this virtually ensures that blacks will turn off to Obama in his reelection bid.
It's tempting to chalk this up to Gingrich just being Gingrich and saying the first thing that comes to mind to snatch a momentary headline. But what makes drew attention to the claim is the perennially chronic number of young blacks that can't find work, and the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Urban League, and the NAACP have sounded the warning bell for months about the ticking time bomb of high black unemployment. Their grave concern over the problem came to a head the first year of Obama's White House tenure when an impatient Congressional Black Caucus and other community organizations pressed Obama to say and do more about the jobless crisis among blacks. Obama refused to specifically push any special initiatives or earmark funding for unemployed blacks. He contended then and now that growing the economy and the billions pumped in stimulus dollars in job projects was the best way to dent black joblessness. This caused a momentary flap with the CBC last December. The friction quickly disappeared from the news, but the issue didn't, and the GOP took note of the discord.
What's relevant in Gingrich and Bachmann's silly charge that Obama has exacerbated black unemployment is that it tosses the glare again on the problem, raises questions why so many blacks can't get a job, why it's been that way so long, and what can be done about it. Chronic black unemployment has been a fixture for a long while. During the Clinton-era economic boom in the mid- and late-1990s, the unemployment rate for young black males was double, and in some parts of the country, triple that of white males. The reasons weren't hard to find. The massive state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs that have only been made worse by the slash and burn budget and deficit reduction proposals of the GOP free marketers Bachmann and Gingrich, coupled with the brutal competition for low and semi-skilled service and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records sledge-hammered black communities. In the late 1990s, long before the big run-up in black unemployment, the California Assembly Commission on the Status of the African-American Males reported that four out of 10 felons entering California prisons are young black males.
The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian, and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has slowed down.
By far, the biggest single reason for the persistent black joblessness is discrimination. Researchers have consistently found that black men without a criminal record are less likely to find a job than white men with criminal records.
The mountain of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action programs and successful employment discrimination lawsuits give the public the impression that job discrimination is a relic of a shameful, racist past. But the evidence on who is unemployed and why tells a far different story. Countless research studies and the numerous discrimination complaints reviewed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the past decade reveal that employers have devised endless dodges to evade anti-discrimination laws. That includes rejecting applicants by their names or areas of the city they live in. Black applicants may be incorrectly told that jobs advertised were filled already.
In studies of the hiring practices of employers in some cities, many top company officials when interviewed said they would not hire blacks. When asked to assess the work ethic of white, black and Latino employees by race, a high percentage of employers ranked blacks dead last. Gingrich, Bachmann and almost certainly other GOP candidates before the campaign dust clears will use the crisis issue of black unemployment to take a sucker punch at Obama. They, of course, offer no new initiatives to hack away at the high numbers of black jobless. There is no evidence that they have done what Obama has done and stumped with industry groups and leaders to prod corporations to jumpstart hiring. The only thing that makes their fingerpoint of Obama for allegedly failing blacks on unemployment is that the crisis is no laughing matter.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com.