want full time work, the unemployment rate for the total population is not 8.5 percent, but 15.2 percent. And the estimate of the African-American unemployment rate would be not 15.8 percent, but a whopping 28.3 percent. More facts – though the number of officially unemployed people is dropping, it is still high enough with 13.1 million actively looking for word and not finding it. And the average person has been out of work for 40.8 weeks, six weeks longer than a year ago. The headlines blaze optimism, the reality is different.
Add to this a recent report that says that the wealth gap between Congress and their constituents is growing. In 1984, the average member of Congress had wealth of $280,000, excluding home equity. In the 20 years since 1984, congressional wealth grew by two and a half times, to $725,000. Again, this doesn’t include home equity. In contrast, the median wealth of an American family actually dropped slightly to around $20,500, again, not including home equity. It is very likely that when home equity is added, the gap is even larger.
This wealth gap perhaps explains why congressional representatives are more interested in tax cuts than in creating jobs. It explains, perhaps, why Republicans so resisted President Obama’s plan to extend the Social Security tax cut and also to extend unemployment rate insurance. Congress is operating in their own self-interest, they aren’t thinking about their jobless and economically challenged constituents.
If these members of Congress got calls from bill collectors, lived with less money than month, had to deny their children a new pair of shoes or an after-school trip because of dollars, or actually had to visit a grocery store on a budget, they might have not so hesitated before they eventually capitulated to President Obama’s determination.
Still the growing wealth gap perhaps explains why so few are alarmed at some of the unemployment rate data.
To be sure, it is exciting to see unemployment rates drop, even slightly. It suggests some of the Obama policies are working. But someone has to explain why these policies aren’t working for African Americans, especially for African-American women. If this trend continues, the Obama administration will have to consider targeting some relief to those who aren’t benefitting from the unemployment downturn.
Some analysts, myself included, have been advocating programs targeted toward the inner city, toward service employment, toward unemployed youth, for quite some time. The unemployment rate gap, the fact that there are clear winners, and also clear losers in the current changes, make targeted employment programs far more imperative.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.