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Federal Shutdown Over, but Woes Continue

Blacks, Minorities Feel the Brunt During Holidays

Stacy M. Brown | 11/27/2013, 11:23 a.m.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD 7th District) Courtesy Photo

While many converge on retail stores on Black Friday, the bargains offered during the busiest shopping day of the year may not be enough to entice some African Americans, still reeling from government furloughs and the federal shutdown.

Less than a month after the shutdown ended, financial experts, politicians and others predict that the collateral damage will be felt for months to come.

Clearly, the 16-day work and government service stoppage, which started on Oct. 1 and ended on Oct. 16, has adversely affected the black community.

“The cost of the government shutdown will eventually run into the billions. The international reputation of our country has been damaged, and worst of all, for more than two weeks, federal employees across this nation were unsure about when they would be able to meet their obligations,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).

“This is not the way our democracy is meant to operate and it is not the way our government should run,” said Fudge, 61.

The shutdown directly affected many blacks, officials said.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Northwest Washington, D.C., 34 percent of the 800,000 individuals in the federal workforce are people of color, a telling figure considering blacks, Latinos and other minorities count as 37 percent of the overall U.S. population.

“The government shutdown was partly due to race,” said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “You’d have to be blind to think race does not play into this stupidity,” said Butler, 38.

Federal employment has traditionally been considered secure, positions that afford a sense of stability to those who choose to become public servants, said Farah Ahmad, a policy analyst for Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress in Northwest Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan educational institute whose mission is to improve the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.

“Most government jobs have good pay and benefits, which can be a good foundation for middle-class incomes; therefore, any loss of government jobs can have a disproportionate effect on the middle class and this is particularly true for African Americans and other people of color, who, after the civil rights gains of the 1960s, saw that public service employment opened up economic opportunities for good, well-paid jobs that provide some measure of protection against discrimination,” she said.

Ahmad, 27, said the competitive pay scales of government employment have lifted generations of black people into the middle class.

“While a lot of press attention has been focused on what services the furlough has cut off, there has not been as much attention on who is being affected, particularly in communities of color,” Ahmad said.

Also, during the shutdown, the government-sponsored Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, suffered, officials said.

Blacks and Latino families represent a large percentage of the more than 8.9 million mothers and children who depend on WIC for food vouchers, baby formula and other nutrition needs. The United States Department of Agriculture, located in Southwest Washington, D.C., temporarily suspended the program as a result of the shutdown and, on Nov. 1, food stamp recipients suffered a five percent reduction in benefits.