March 10, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Employment in Wisconsin continues to lag behind the national average.  In districts neighboring my own, 14.4 percent of white males remain unemployed.   Any concerned onlooker would consider that rate unacceptable, and I am not inclined to disagree.  During the Clinton years, such a high employment rate would have been considered unthinkable.  And yet, within my own district, less than half of job-seeking black men (47%) have found employment.  The numbers simply shocks the conscience.

In my district in urban Milwaukee, nearly $360 million dollars of federal money has been distributed to union electrical contractors, private development centers, industrial factories and other recipients by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Despite assurances that federal aid recipients would abide by Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity guidelines for job recruitment, employment among black men and women continues to trail that of white Wisconsinites by significant percentages.

According to a metropolitan survey by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the astronomical unemployment rate among blacks represents 13 percent increase from the previous year. In fact, Milwaukee has been cursed with the nation’s second largest unemployment among black citizens.  I am ashamed that a black person in Milwaukee is four times more likely to be unemployed then in any other metropolitan area. The current level of black unemployment rivals that of the Great Depression.

President Obama has promised that communities with the highest unemployment rates would be targeted for reinvestment.  We here in Milwaukee, however, we still hold our breath in hope that the tax dollars, largely reinvested in white-owned businesses, help provide living wages to the economically disadvantaged young black adults in our communities.

My quantifiable discontent with black unemployment is substantiated by facts, statistics and the heart-wrenching personal testimony of my very own neighbors. In 2010, Milwaukee’s black unemployment increased to 23 percent even among skilled workers, high school graduates, community college graduates and university graduates.  UW-M’s survey even proved that many of Milwaukee’s white employers would rather hire a white high school drop out than a black college graduate. It is increasingly obvious that monies from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have not yet translated into living wages for qualified black workers.

In Paris, unemployment among black youth had hit 40 percent by the time the demand for jobs became a city wide demonstration.  According to the London Times, unemployment among black youth was a comparatively mild 30 percent just before terrible, destructive riots broke out last year. Can our legislators afford to continue to ignore America’s disenchanted black youth?

I demand jobs for the black community. Blacks deserve a slice of the pie that has help shield other Wisconsin families from the worst pains of recession. The historically sustained economic recession and depression experienced by black families has simply become unacceptable.  We must ask ourselves: what are the institutional barriers that keep Milwaukee’s black unemployment four times as high as white unemployment, and how can we overcome them?

During the Gilded Age, corrupt politicians and robber barons kept black unemployment high by encouraging social turmoil and economic injustice.  These fundamentalist corporate bluebloods exploited government for their own selfish ends.  They promoted vicious propaganda suggesting that the inferiority of blacks denied blacks fair wages in an age of prosperity. In 1896, the Supreme Court also upheld Jim Crow laws as necessary to keep blacks in their place.  Years later, eliminating race barriers to insure social and economic justice was denounced as an attack upon state sovereignty by President Woodrow Wilson. Today, the weakening of Equal Opportunity laws help the robber baron’s heirs in private industry to discriminate against even the most highly employable blacks.  Even the Supreme Court is conspiring to limit the number of blacks at state universities.

During the great depression, President Roosevelt insisted that federal funds be used to hire black men and white women. Despite southern opposition to employing rural black men in entry level, low-paying, unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, Roosevelt insisted that every American get an opportunity to work. Wisconsin needs grand thinking in the tradition of President Roosevelt to provide help her citizens with the same opportunities.

According to the Department of Labor, Milwaukee is experiencing unprecedented job growth in bio-technology, education, financial services, health care, manufacturing, printing, tourism, and software development. I encourage District Four constituents to apply for jobs at the institutions receiving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.  For a list of available employers please link to my website. If you have been denied a job despite your qualifications, please contact me personally at my Milwaukee office.