Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African News Wire editor, covers a home defense on the city's west side. A campaign is unfolding to win a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions in Michigan. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Obama’s Jobs Plan and the African American National Question
Unemployment and poverty increases while real issues are avoided
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
President Barack Obama, facing formidable challenges to his re-election bid for 2012 as well as the potential further erosion of the Democratic Party’s base in the Senate and House of Representatives, unveiled the American Jobs Act during a special address to a joint session of Congress on September 8. On September 12 he announced the submission of a $447 billion proposal to Congress that is purportedly designed to create jobs amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Yet will this plan actually create jobs without any specific goals cited or timetables set? Can the U.S. capitalist system generate long-term employment without a fundamental restructuring of the priorities of the political economy which are geared toward the maintenance of the status quo and the maximization of profits for those who control the means of production?
With African Americans and Latino/as having unemployment rates that far exceed that of the white population, will this plan seriously address the inherent racism and national oppression that lies at the center of the disparate impact of capitalist economic policy in the current period? Is this merely another campaign ploy to inspire and potentially galvanize the base of the Democratic Party electorate to turn out to the polls in November 2012?
In order to address these questions it is essential that workers and oppressed people inside the United States be organized independently in order to raise economic and social demands that speak directly to their needs. At present the crisis of unemployment must be viewed within the broader context of the character of the current phase of capitalist globalization.
Raising the issue of jobs must begin from the framework of guaranteeing full employment and the elimination of poverty. Neither of these issues were addressed by Obama in his speech before Congress or in his Labor Day talk in Detroit on September 5.
The overall unemployment rate in the U.S. now stands officially at 9.1 percent. This is approximately 15-16 million people who are seeking work and cannot find employment.
Yet if the number of discouraged workers and part-time employees are taken into consideration the number of people needing jobs is above 30 million. At the same time within the Latino/as community the jobless rate is 11.3 percent.
Topping all other national groups are the African Americans whose unemployment rate is officially 16.7 percent. This rate of joblessness grew from 15.9 percent between July and August.
For African American males the rate of unemployment grew a full percentage point in August to 18.0 percent. For African American youth between the ages of 16-19, the rate of joblessness was officially calculated at 46.5 percent growing from 39.2 percent in just one month.
Although 155,000 African Americans reportedly got hired in August, this number was offset by the growing amount of people seeking employment where there was none available.
In a statement issued by the Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, he states that the “August unemployment numbers show that there is a significant hemorrhage in the African American community that is not being addressed. We stand at a critical point in our nation’s history.” (Seattle Medium, Sept. 7)
Cleaver continues by noting that “The time for bold action on jobs is now to provide hard working Americans with real economic opportunities. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will offer suggestions to President Obama before his address to the nation on jobs.”
According to the CBC the African American legislative group has submitted 40 jobs proposals since the beginning of the 112th Congress. None of these legislative efforts have been taken up by the administration or the broader House of Representatives.
In reference to the stimulus package submitted and passed during the first year of the Obama administration, the Seattle Medium says that “The $800 billion bailout was supposed to have stimulated job growth. Whereas it seemed to have slowed the bleeding of jobs, it apparently did little to increase employment prospects for African Americans.”
This same publication points out that “while President Obama has made two major speeches over the past month in which he focused specifically on the disparate unemployment rate for veterans and their difficulty in finding jobs, during his first two years, he has not specifically addressed the disparate economic suffering of African Americans.” The Congressional Black Caucus member Maxine Waters of California, who has criticized the administration for not addressing the specific impact of the economic crisis on African Americans--although saying she supported the American Jobs Act--noted that no specific mention was made of the disparate impact on this same community that has suffered the most under the era of low-wage capitalism.
Jobless Rate is a Reflection of Structural Inequality and Growing Poverty
Poverty is increasing in the United States at an alarming rate specifically within African American communities across the country. A recent study issued by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies documents this fact utilizing U.S. Census data from 2010.
This report entitled “The Loss Decade,” in reference to the 2000s, the Center states that “Concentrated poverty has risen substantially since 2000. About one in 11 residents of American metropolitan areas, or 22.3 million people, now live in a neighborhood where 30 percent or more live in poverty.” (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies)
In addition, the report points out that “The number of people in high-poverty neighborhoods increased by nearly 5 million since 2000, when 18.4 million metropolitan residents (7.9 percent of the total) lived in high-poverty neighborhoods. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of people in poverty grew by 10 million, from 33 million to 43 million, raising the poverty rate from 11.3 percent to 14.3 percent.”
With specific reference to the nationally oppressed in the U.S., “African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians are substantially more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods than non-Hispanics whites. One in four African Americans (7.6 million people), one in six Hispanics (7.1 million people), and one in eight American Indians (150,000 people) in metropolitan America live in a Census tract in which 30 percent or more of the population is in poverty.”
Also it is important as well to acknowledge that “One out of nine foreign-born residents also lives in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ratios starkly contrast with the estimated one in 25 non-Hispanic whites (6.3 million people) who lives in one of these tracts. Like the general trends, these high numbers represent a substantial setback for African Americans and Latino/as compared with progress in the 1990s for non-Hispanic whites, most of whom are native (U.S.) born.”
The National Question Cannot Be Resolved Under Capitalism
These stark figures that are provided by the U.S. government itself illustrates that the current trend within the capitalist system will inevitably lead to greater impoverishment of working people, especially those from the oppressed nations. The American Jobs Act is not designed to address these disparities and will only serve perhaps to provide a campaign slogan for the Democratic Party.
Moreover, there are already two major laws on the books that mandate full employment in the United States. One passed in 1946 and another more recently, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.
The fact that there is no discussion on the part of the administration or Congress in regard to enforcing the implementation of these bills which require the federal government to create employment when the jobless rate exceeds 4 percent, is indicative of the lack of political will on the part of the politicians from both ruling class parties and the bourgeoisie to eliminate unemployment let alone poverty. Obama’s plan to provide further tax incentives for businesses to hire is a proven failure since this has been state policy since the Reagan era which has been escalated since the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001.
Defense spending, which has grown enormously since the Bush administration, has been paralleled with higher rates of unemployment and poverty. This can be said as well in relationship to the massive multi trillion-dollar bailouts of the financial institutions and transnational corporations since 2008.
It is only under a socialist system where a planned economy is instituted that the questions of national oppression, poverty and full employment can be adequately addressed. It is the goal of the capitalist system to maximize profits and further weaken the working class, not provide jobs and prosperity for the majority of the people within society.
Consequently, the workers and oppressed must abandon the ruling class parties in the U.S. and advance their own political program aimed at eliminating national oppression, poverty and joblessness. This can only be done with a conscious program of mass political education, organization and mobilization to not only defend the gains of the past but to fashion the non-exploitative societies of the future.