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GOP Ploy: Blame Black Joblessness on President Obama

Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson

LOS ANGELES, Calif.–GOP presidential contenders Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich figured out yet another ploy to knock President Obama. Blame him for joblessness among blacks now at nearly Great Depression levels, especially for young black males.

Both candidates made the claim in recent speeches at the Republican Leadership Conference. Gingrich got so carried away with this absurd notion that he went off the deep end by claiming that Obama’s supposed culpability virtually insures that blacks will turned off by the president in his reelection bid.

It’s tempting simply to chalk this ploy up to Gingrich being Gingrich, saying the first thing that comes to mind to snatch a momentary headline. But what may draw attention to this claim is the perennially chronic number of young blacks, who can’t find work.

Also, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), National Urban League, and NAACP have sounded warning bells 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.

Republicans’ Charge Spotlights Problem

The president refused to push any special initiatives or earmark funding for unemployed blacks. He contended then, as he does now, that growing the economy and the billions pumped in stimulus dollars in jobs 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 Bachman’s silly charge that Obama has exacerbated black unemployment is that it again spotlights 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 of the 1990s, the unemployment rate for young black males was double that of white males—and triple in some parts of the United States.

The reasons for persistent unemployment among young African Americas are not hard to find. First were the massive state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, which have only been made worse by the slash and burn budget and deficit-reduction proposals of the GOP free marketers—people like Bachman and Gingrich. Second has been the brutal competition with immigrants for low and partly skilled service and retail jobs. Add to that the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records, which 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.

Failed Schools Make Educational Cripples

The high number of inner-city public schools that are failing miserably also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples.

These students are desperately ill equipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills needed to succeed in the public sector and 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 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 a city in which they live. Black applicants may be incorrectly told that jobs advertised have been filled.

Research on employers’ hiring practices in some cities show that many top corporate officials said in interviews they would not hire blacks. When asked to assess the work ethic of white, black and Latino employees by race, a high percentage of employer’s ranked blacks dead last.

Gingrich, Bachman 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.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the GOP contenders have done what the president has done in stumping with industry groups and leaders to prod corporations to jumpstart hiring. Republicans have only one sticking point for their ludicrous fingerpointing at Obama for allegedly failing blacks on unemployment. The crisis is no laughing matter.

Written by Globe Newspapers

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