Varied Solutions on Summit Agenda
About two dozen economists, academics and other scholars spent the day laying out an often dismal picture of the economic stressors that push and pull against African Americans, Latinos and Asians on a daily basis.
But rather than just laying out a litany of problems, the group, in a series of presentations, offered varied prescriptions for reversing the vast disparities between people of color and their white counterparts in the United States.
Speaker after speaker gave voice to the institutional racism that consigns disturbing numbers of non-whites to high levels of unemployment, a widening wealth gap, educational disparities and economic distress that bodes ill not just for these respective communities but America as a whole.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2012, white households had incomes that are two-thirds higher than blacks and 40 percent higher than Latinos. White adults are also more likely than black and Latino adults to have college degrees and to own their own homes. The gap in poverty rates has narrowed since 1980 but it remains substantial. The poverty rate for whites is 7.7 percent. The rate stands at about 24 percent for blacks and 21 percent for Latinos.
The speakers said there is continued urgency around finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems facing African Americans. Blacks have been battered by the recession, and have not fully benefited from the fragile economic recovery. Unemployment is significantly higher than the national figure and income inequality and a widening wealth gap threatens to consign blacks and Latinos community to a permanent underclass.
"Black people have been denied the opportunity to earn income, get higher incomes and advance in those jobs," said renowned Economist Bernard E. Anderson during the Fourth Annual African American Economic Summit, sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, at Howard University on Feb. 1. "One of the reasons discrimination is so high is because so many blacks with education and training are denied access."
"There are notable disparities in employment for African Americans and whites who have similar educational levels and the reasons for that is substantial discrimination."
Anderson, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said the unemployment rates between blacks and whites with a college education was narrowing until the recession that began in 2007 started to ravage the United States. But as the country has recovered, that gap has not narrowed.
"Until we fight this head on, we'll continue to have these problems. I think we need to not let the president off the hook," Anderson said of President Barack Obama. "Black people are smart. They gave him a pass during the first term. But he's not going to run again for anything. He must find a voice and summon up the courage and use his political capital to fight against racism."
Anderson, chairman of the National Urban League Council of Economic Advisors, said he remembers taking a day off from the Pentagon 50 years ago, to attend the March on Washington.
"It wasn't about Martin Luther King, it was a march for jobs and freedom," said Anderson. "It was organized by A. Philip Randolph who believed that freedom in this country was dependent on economic opportunity. We have to have the president address the issue of racial inequality. We understand that he doesn't want race to be a dominant theme ... How ironic is it that an African- American president must remain silent on this issue?"
Rodney Green, Ph.D., chairman of Howard University's Department of Economics and a professor of urban economics there since 1977, proposed deep solutions for a deep crisis. But he detailed the economic woes the country has faced in recent years.
"With massive unemployment, and weak demand, the president faced dire circumstances," he said. "There were bank bailouts but the devastating losses of homeowners, workers and immigrants were not addressed. The focus of the economic debate continues to be the fiscal cliff, balancing the budget and cutting social programs."
More direct government involvement must happen so that distressed communities can begin to feel relief, Green said, and there has to be a focus on narrowing the significant income, health and wealth gaps that have become a feature of life in the United States. The recession has revealed flaws and weaknesses in the economy and the poor and middle class have been ravaged by "rabid capitalism," he said.
"The fundamental problem is that economic viability means serving the needs of capitalists," Green said. "All of the benefits from increased productivity had accrued to producers. The current crisis is global. There is no recovery for workers. The federal government paid $700 billion in bailouts and other benefits and businesses are effectively on strike. They hold $2 trillion in cash, $5 trillion including international holdings. They have deserted financial instruments and gone to more exotic forms of making money. This has meant a decline in actual economic activity which has not restored a modicum of relief for workers."
It seems that every solution creates another problem and capitalism is creating its own problems. In much the same way that mass movements brought change for women and laborers, in the establishment of Social Security and other economic and social gains, another mass movement is needed, said Green.
"We need to rebuild the movement," he said, citing the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, the resurgence of labor in other countries and the uprising of indigenous ethnic groups in Latin America.
Haydar Kurban, Ph.D., an associate professor in Howard's Economics Department offered a bold $860 billion jobs plan proposed by the Chicago Political Economy Group to bring the country to full employment.
"The private sector has failed to provide jobs. The failure has long-term implications and the federal government must do it," he said. "The size and role of U.S. public sector involvement must increase. We need to restructure the U.S. economy and this crisis presents the opportunity to restructure."
The job plan would produce four million jobs a year over five years, Kurban said. The private sector is slated to produce about 1.5 million jobs a year but job losses in the private sector due to wage and working conditions competition stands at 1 million jobs a year. That means there is a need to produce 3.5 million jobs per year through direct or indirect government action.
"It should reach all segments, roads, bridges and schools," said Kurban. The median salary would be $18.47 an hour or $38,000 a year.
Kurban said a tax on speculation in financial markets would pay for the jobs plan.