Its the Economy Stupid

Its the Economy Stupid


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Employed African Americans on average work more hours per week than employed white people.

Blacks are slightly less likely than whites to use illegal drugs. They are more

likely to be affiliated with a religious congregation. Poll after poll shows no difference



It’s the Economy Stupid!By Rhonda Soto


African Americans have broken two new barriers, according to the Pew Charitable Trust Economic Mobility Project’s new report. Almost half the children of middle-class blacks have fallen into the lowest income bracket in the last 30 years, the first generation in a century to lose so much ground. And for the first time, a majority of African Americans polled say that blacks are responsible for their own economic situations, and that the values of poor and middle-class blacks have become more different over the last generation.   Yeah, right, it’s the values. Those middle-class African Americans whose children are now in poverty—rotten parents, every one of them. While going out to work every day, they were obviously telling their children not to do the same. The black unemployment rate in October was double the white unemployment, 8.5% versus 4.2% , according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers of all races, with their superior values, no doubt rejected those black pavement-pounders because they could see the poor work ethic a mile away. The quarter million drop in the number of U.S. jobs in October, and all the offshore outsourcing of the last decade must be “a poor black values thing.”   It was poor black values that led neighborhoods of color to be targeted by predatory lenders. It wasn’t the secondary mortgage industry that started the current tsunami of foreclosures now evicting people, disproportionately black and Latino people—it was the homeowners’ bad values. Higher interest rates charged to borrowers of color with identical credit rating are obviously payback for their poor behavior. And the mostly white executives who made millions off discriminatory sub-prime lending, they deserved that reward for their exemplary moral character.   The drop in unionization from 20% to 12% in the last 25 years wouldn’t have happened, and the American labor force would not have lost 265,000 black union workers, if those workers’ values had been better. The professional union-busting consulting firms, who advised companies how to illegally fire pro-union workers—they’re role models of the American work ethic.   Similarly, the mostly white Congress members increased their own paychecks over $50,000 with multiple raises since 1990 while blocking an increase in the minimum wage for a record-breaking decade. And the mostly all-white billionaires on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans who are $290 billion richer than last year—they must have finest values of all.   Prison sentences are longer for blacks and Latinos than whites convicted of the same crime because judges can just see the difference in moral fiber between defendants of different races. And of course employers and health insurance companies are not insuring 7.2 million black people—nearly 20% – because their moral failings have made them too sickly.   The re-segregation of schools, and the widening gap in class sizes and per-pupil spending between mostly white and mostly black schools? The roll-back of affirmative action in higher education? All due to the character flaws of African American students.   Are values really the explanation for the racial income gap? Or do we too often assume that the American dream of equal opportunity is a reality? Do we overlook growing structural obstacles that block the path of some more than others among us?   Employed African Americans on average work more hours per week than employed white people. Blacks are slightly less likely than whites to use illegal drugs. They are more likely to be affiliated with a religious congregation. Poll after poll shows no difference between races in attitudes towards education, paid work, or expectations for children’s advancement. Where are these famous bad values?   As a former teacher I know that some young people have self-destructive attitudes and behaviors—some black and Latino youth, some white youth, and some youth of 30 years ago. Far more young people have talent, ambition, and a work ethic that go underutilized, especially working-class youth of color in this ‘have and have-nots’ economy.   We as people of color are used to noticing racism and putting it into words. We’re less accustomed to naming classism—but it’s rampant among middle-class people of color. Is this what racial progress has come to: more middle-class blacks taking up the previously white sport of blaming the victim?

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Rhonda Soto knows how important and challenging the work is to build awareness around issues of race and class, specifically what it can mean to a low income person of color. Being bi-racial, born and raised in Harlem, New York, Rhonda has been exposed to various forms of racism and classism. As a single parent on welfare, she moved to a culturally all white suburban area. She continued her education and worked her way towards earning a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College, where she was inspired by her professor, Beverley Tatum, Author of “Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting in the Cafeteria Together?,” to deeply examine the impact classism and racism has on society. Upon completing her bachelors, Rhonda worked with teens in a transitional shelter, then with GED students preparing for college. Most recently she taught middle school where she also chaired their diversity committee. Her long-standing interest in social justice has led her to become a vocal advocate, trainer, and consultant around issues of diversity, including facilitating workshops for teachers who serve a diverse population of students. She also participated in a federal funded project on the impact of welfare reform with presentations at national conferences, dialogues on race/class, and interviews in the media. “I have a passion for this work and a commitment to keeping it going.”

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Ronda Soto’s essay undoubtedly has its strengths.  Bear in mind that her opinions are a response to a “survey of opinion.”   Do the respondents to opinion surveys have definitions for terms such as race, class, and ethnicity?  Where do they get their definitions?  

While Soto does a good job with some of her statistics on union membership, rates of imprisonment, etc., she is not careful enough with her definition of middle class.  How does she define middle class?   In terms of household income?  Two working adults per household?  

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania defines a “middle class” household as one with an income of $25,000 to $75,000 – households in the middle half of the U. S. census.  Does Soto blame the black middle class (of which I assume she is part) for the wretchedness of black folk in the most oppressed strata?   Here is how she describes the black middle class – in her own words:

Employed African Americans on average work more hours per week than employed white people. Blacks are slightly less likely than whites to use illegal drugs. They are more likely to be affiliated with a religious congregation. Poll after poll shows no difference between races in attitudes towards education, paid work, or expectations for children’s advancement. Where are these famous bad values? (Ronda Soto)

Are these the same people as the “middle-class blacks taking up the previously white sport of blaming the victim?”  It cannot be, if Soto is representative of that class she is describing above.  Soto seems to typify the black middle class tendency towards self-laceration, deprecates her own class, and seemingly blames the above-described middle-class people for the disparagement of black folk in general.   That certainly cannot be her intention.—Wilson

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Everyone recently is making comments on the Pew Charitable Trust Economic Mobility Project’s new report. You may recall that Skip Gates used it in his piece “Forty Acres and a Mule”. Polls are not good sociology, either for Gates or Soto’s argument. Statistical polls are untrustworthy, for some of the same reasons you suggest—the lack of clear definitions in matters of race, class, and ethnicity?  Moreover, I do not trust pollsters and I do not trust the use of statistics to tell us anything meaningful about how life is lived.   You’re right Soto “is not careful enough” with her definition of “middle class” in terms of household income or two working adults per household. Skip Gates also falls into that fuzzy definition of “middle-class.” He makes use of the term in in three instances:   1) “By a ratio of 2 to 1,” the report says, “blacks say that the values of poor and middle-class blacks have grown more dissimilar over the past decade.”  2) “The historical basis for the gap between the black middle class and underclass shows that ending discrimination, by itself, would not eradicate black poverty and dysfunction.”  3) “We also need intervention to promulgate a middle-class ethic of success among the poor, while expanding opportunities for economic betterment.”   He lumps disparate groups under “middle class.” For him billionaire Oprah Winfrey and millionaire Whoopi Goldberg  fall into the same group as the Pew Study’s middle-class with its fuzzy median income of $55,000. How can millionaires and billionaires like Oprah and Whoopi be classified as The Black Middle Class. I assume Skip is also arguing too that he is in that “middle class” bracket as well, though he too is worth at least four million. So his argument in Soto’s light takes on other dimensions. For if the middle class is slipping into poverty then what do we make of Skip’s desire “to promulgate a middle-class ethic of success among the poor.” He does not really have the Annenberg middle class classification in mind (an income of $25,000 to $75,000), but rather persons of his millionaire/billionaire “success” class who are less affected by a changing economy  Soto’s website is just as vague and confusing as Skip’s for they too have  broad categories. They leave this large gulf between “ruling class/owning class” (“dominants”) and “middle-class” (“mostly dominants”) (Class Action). Skip and Soto both seem to exclude millionaires/billionaires from the ruling and owning classes. That may be true for Whoopi the Millionaire. But how does that fare with Oprah the Billionaire. If Oprah is not part of the owning classes who is?  What about Condi and Obama, and Colin? Are they just simply “middle class.”  Because of this fuzzy middle-class definition, Soto blames the falling-into-poverty “black middle class” for the wretchedness of black folk in “the most oppressed strata.” There is such a thing, I assume, as a Middle Middle Class, an Upper Middle Class, a Lower Upper Class, a Middle Upper Class, and an Upper Upper Class. All these possibilities are discounted by both Skip and Soto. There is silence on these categories. In short there’s suggestion in both Gates and Soto that blacks do not rise above the economic category of “middle-class,” regardless of their financial worth and influence.  So you’re right this problem with definitions create havoc with the soundness of Soto’s arguments, as well as Gates and Mr. Cosby’s arguments. We are uncertain who they are talking about.—Rudy    

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Winter of Our Discontent—The unemployment rate in 1998 was only slightly lower than the unemployment rate today. But for working Americans, everything else was different. Wages were rising, yet inflation was low, so the purchasing power of workers’ take-home pay was steadily improving. So, too, were job benefits, including the availability of health insurance. And homeownership was rising steadily. It was, in other words, a time when Americans felt they were sharing in the country’s prosperity. Today, by contrast, wage gains for most workers are being swallowed by inflation. In fact, the reality for lower-and middle-income workers may be worse than the official statistics say, because the prices of necessities like food, transportation and medical care are rising considerably faster than the Consumer Price Index as a whole. One striking statistic: the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner was 11 percent higher this year than last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans receiving health insurance from their employers, which began to decline in 2001, is continuing its downward trend. And homeownership, after rising for several years on a tide of subprime mortgages – well, you know how that’s going. In short, working Americans have very good reason to feel unhappy about the state of the economy. But what will it take to make their situation better?— Paul Krugman NYTimes

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Worsening wealth inequality by race

White Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks—a gap that nearly doubled during the Great Recession. The median household net worth for whites was $110,729 in 2010, versus $4,995 for blacks, according to recently released Census Bureau figures.

The difference is similarly notable when it comes to Hispanics, who had a median household net worth of $7,424. The ratio between white and Hispanic wealth expanded to 15 to 1.

The gap between the races widened considerably during the recent economic downturn, which whites weathered better than blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

The latter three groups saw their median household net worth fall by roughly 60% between 2005 and 2010, while the median net worth for white households slipped only 23%. This allowed whites to leap ahead of Asians as the race with the highest median household net worth.


money.cnn, Tami Luhby 21 June  2012

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.

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Sex at the Margins

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 26 November 2007 





The Economy

  Wilson Jeremiah Moses Table  Criminalizing a Race: Blacks and Prisons Table

Related files: If this be Lynching . . . (As in Merrill-Lynch)  / Economic status of African Americans‏  The Big End of the American Economy?

 Mortgage Crisis Lesson: Ostentatious Display Ain’t Black Power  Benefits of Whiteness  Castrating the Whistle Blower

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