Inner cities across the country have been getting hit with a duplicitous economic combination. They are getting hit with the overhand right jab of an inequitable share of public sector contracts and the lethal left hook of exclusion from workforce participation with the companies that do get the contracts. This combination has helped to economically knock out and lock out communities of color.
An egregious example of this resurfaced during the “State of Economic Opportunity in San Diego” Forum hosted by National Action Network San Diego President Reverend Shane Harris. During the session, the National Black Contractors Association revealed 2013 data showing that there were only 36 African American workers out of 2,066 on city funded construction projects, with most companies not having any Blacks at all.
This may be just the tip of a larger iceberg of economic exclusion and disparity. Elected officials need to be pressed to find the updated data, pull it out, dust it off, publicize it, and explain it. They should be talking about the numbers and attention should be placed on the fact that this is information is not common knowledge. The masses need to know.
Given the economic conditions of urban communities in cities across the country, every speech that politicians representing these communities in San Diego and other cities give should contain data on what percentage of jobs and contracts and jobs are going to whom.
This explicit approach is needed to deal with the economic crisis in urban America. We are past the time of fooling ourselves into believing that the kumbaya method is going to work. Elected officials and power brokers must be pressed and held accountable. We are past the time of just being happy with incremental change. We need to call a timeout on the days of celebrating for years about getting two or three people hooked up. Incremental change will not suffice.
The data is too drastic in many communities and the conditions are too severe. There must be a sense of urgency. A policy monopoly has dominated the distribution of public sector contracts and resources in most cities. Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones consider a policy monopoly to be a fairly closed and concentrated system of a few important actors in policy making. Such a monopoly has an interest in keeping policy making closed, because a closed system benefits the interests of those in the monopoly.
There must be a concentrated effort to bust open policy monopolies that have helped to control and destabilize the economic conditions of working class and poor communities. There should be an ongoing discussion about how communities can affect the levers of government to alter the current distribution of jobs, contracts, and other resources.
Entry points into gainful employment should be highlighted and created for all of those who are currently blocked by formal and informal structures. Elected officials need to make the data on workforce participation and contracts plain to their constituents every chance they get and it should be demanded of them.
There is need for a revival of interest in these disparities in order to bring the issues of economic justice to the forefront. The root of a great deal of violence and substance abuse in urban communities is financial frustration and hopelessness. Many crimes are committed not just out of moral bankruptcy, but also out of economic desperation. The public policy making process should be opened up to a broader population. Casting a vote every two and four years cannot be the extent of wide public participation in the political process.
Many politicians seem to have gotten comfortable with the status quo and fear no harm from an organized vote. If communities don’t start holding even their favorite politicians accountable for monitoring and moving the numbers on contracts and workforce participation then minority communities are destined to be a permanent underclass.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Scholar and Activist