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Election 2016: Top Issues Black People Should Consider

By: Mary L. Datcher Senior Staff Writer

As the Obama administration counts down to its final curtain call in less than three months — we are forced to wonder — will we witness another African-American president in our time again? It was a historical, major milestone that gray-haired baby boomers felt with emotion as decades of blatant racism washed over Black Americans and our ancestors.

With the general election less than a week away, history will be made once again with the possibility of Americans electing the first woman U.S. president or the first reality-show television star. Either way, the question remains —how does this affect African-American communities?

In Illinois, according to the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 14.7 percent African-Americans in the state. With a little over 5.2 million Cook County residents, 24.2 percent are African-Americans.  Although, the Hispanic population is climbing rapidly with an increase of 2.5 million undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. since President Obama took office, African-American voters are still considered a major driving force in elections. 

Democrats are focused on maintaining their hold on the White House with their candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and splitting Republicans’ begrudging support of Donald Trump. But as each campaign works for voters in battleground states, Illinois is going through its own battle of campaign races.

There are some hot-button topics that will affect people of color, not just on a federal level but through our state and county legislation.  Illinois is the only state that has not passed a budget in its fiscal year and will be moving toward two years, as the war between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Speaker Michael Madigan influence one of the most expensive elections in Illinois history.

How does this play out for Black Illinois residents? In 2014, the general election win of Rauner was no mistake. His clutch of the highest government office in Illinois was won because out of almost 1.4 million registered voters in Cook County, only 696,403 ballots were cast — less than 50 percent turned out at the voting polls.  Low voter turnout for former Gov. Pat Quinn played a role in his loss in the 2014 election.

According to WalletHub, Illinois ranks tenth compared to 48 states that speak to Black political engagement. This data includes Black voter turnout and registration during the most recent presidential and midterm elections, measuring proportional representation of Blacks in state and national party conventions.

With reported lines at early voting polls, Democrats and Republicans are relying heavily on strong voter turnout swinging their way in the presidential race but also gaining the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, State legislature and county seats — including the judges.

Top Five Major Issues That Affect the Black Community

Jobs

One of the top issues in our community is unemployment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Illinois was 6.8 percent compared to California at 8.1 percent in 2008. In the 2016 annual report, unemployment has dropped to 5.5 percent, compared to California 5.3 percent. 

In the U.S., the overall percentage of unemployment show 4.4 percent of whites are jobless compared to Blacks at 8.3 percent. White men holding at 4.1 percent, white women at 3.8 percent, Black men at 8.3 percent and Black women almost twice as high at 7 percent. African-American youth between 16 to 19 years old are at high numbers, reflecting 27.2 percent across the country who are without employment.

In the past eight years, there has been a slight improvement in Cook County with 6.1 percent jobless residents compared to a 6.4 percentage in 2008.

Nearly over half of African-American workers earn less than $15 an hour, with many states at the minimum-wage standard of $7.25 an hour.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has gone on record advocating for the hourly wage increase, whereas Republican candidate Donald Trump’s platform is to create job growth with a “pro-growth” tax plan, a new modern regulatory framework and America-first trade policy — none of which explains what this means to implementing raising current minimum-wage requirement.  

Is it important to maintain jobs in the U.S.? Yes, it is, but it’s just as important to have jobs that give citizens a quality of life to provide for their families. Supporting a minimum wage increase will also provide financial stimulus into the local economy among neighborhood businesses.

Health Care

This year marks the fifth year of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The program pushed aggressively by the Obama administration and House Democrats was rejected at every turn by the Republicans. Signed into law in 2010, more than 16 million Americans have obtained health care, with young adults being the highest card carriers.

In the African-American community, health disparities are serious with top risk indicators being fatal causes of death — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer and HIV-related illnesses. 

Since the implementation of HealthCare.gov open enrollment, there have been improvements to the online site to assist people to get health insurance. There are penalties for those who don’t purchase an affordable health insurance plan, but there are also options for people. The downside — the more money you earn, the more money you will pay for premiums.

Clinton has discussed the importance of Obamacare, but also adjusting key reforms to keep it affordable for citizens. This is detrimental because federal funding is allocated for CountyCare — a program managed by the Cook County health care system in Illinois.

The program had more uninsured Medicaid patients in the last year with the assistance of federal dollars. In 2014, patient enrollment rose to 46 percent.

The decline of individuals without health insurance was 32.3 percent in the first four months of 2015. 

Trump, along with other Republicans, are staunch critics of the ACA, stating premiums will be raised in 2017. Health insurance premiums will be raised for those in a higher household median, with taxes being raised to cover low-income households.

Studies have shown taxpayers will pay more money for uninsured individuals who have unexpected or existing health conditions than if they had an active health plan in place.

Education

In the last year, the battle between CTU, CPS and concerned parents have gripped news headlines. How state legislators represent their constituents’ interests also includes educational funding.

Since the closing of 52 CPS schools in predominantly Black communities, it has had a sad and dismal effect on our neighborhoods. Families continue to move out of Chicago, concerned about providing a safe environment for their children’s travel to and from home.

But as charter schools continue to pop up, empty school buildings that once were the pulse of Black neighborhoods stand as symbols of our broken communities.

While CPS and Mayor Emanuel report success stories for year-round education for K-grad students, increased high school graduation rates, in addition to free college tuition for CPS students to attend all City Colleges, with a 3.0 GPA or better — pension funding has cut into educational funding.  

There has been a reported drop of close to 11,000 fewer CPS enrolled students — parents finding alternate education or relocating to the suburbs.

This year, the state budget stalemate threatened universities that rely a great deal on state funding, such as Chicago State University, Northern Illinois University and Western Illinois University.

While college students were met with the possibility of their school year disrupted by state budget cuts, thousands of Illinois parents were without child care assistance.

Criminal Justice & Reform

Each state has set forth different constitutional laws to criminalize individuals who break the law. However, the most damaging U.S. law passed was the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 under President Bill Clinton. During one of the worst drug epidemic periods in the U.S., the bill known as  “Three Strikes, You’re Out” set the stage for the next two decades of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. 

There are roughly 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

According to The Sentencing Project, in Illinois, there were close to 48,278 in prison in 2014. For every white person jailed, there are about nine Blacks incarcerated.

Public safety has become a top issue among voters as the death toll rises related to gun violence and gun-control laws. Unfortunately, Chicago has taken center stage with having surpassed both New York City and Los Angeles with the murder toll rising to 580 at the end of October 2016.

The dynamic of how each legislative branch from the federal, state and county general elections play out will be the beginning of redesigning the blueprint of our law enforcement and justice system. Who we elect as judges is imperative in how cases are managed and legal biases toward people of color are eliminated.

As we lose more young Black lives at the hands of gang violence — the demons of the Chicago Police Department were on full display during the Jon Burge trial. Not only did this case open up Pandora’s Box of police misconduct cases, but a journalist’s persistence led to a court-ordered release of the police dashcam of the Laquan McDonald murder.

The Department of Justice’s investigation of this case and inquiries of others has reinvigorated voters to protest, march and to vote out Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, raising Democratic candidate Kim Foxx to a national spotlight.

Foxx and State Sen. Kwame Raoul have advocated for criminal justice reform, beginning with the decreasing sentences of non-violent offenders.

In addition to reforming the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act legislation, former Secretary of State Clinton has proposed to reissue federal resources to fight violet crime instead of smaller marijuana possession.

Addressing supporters at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, she says, “We’re going to do everything we can in the remaining days of this election, but also afterwards, to make it very clear there’s a place in America for every one of us. Everyone deserves to have a place, and we’re not going to shy away from taking on injustice, and that includes systemic racism, sexism, prejudice against other people – because when someone is being treated with bigotry and discrimination, that opens the door for everyone, then, to be subject to the same kind of mistreatment.”

Everything from reforming criminal bond procedures in Cook County court rooms to dismantling the “school-to-prison” pipeline will be on the line on Nov. 8.

Economic Development & Commerce

The Great Recession of 2008, leading to the spiraling housing market, was beyond repair for thousands of homeowners. So many abandoned homes and buildings are still left dormant in already economic hemorrhaging Black communities.

As the Chicago real estate market regains its footing, homes and condo sales have risen again, becoming a seller’s market, but for many the damage is irreversible. 

What we are looking for is fair and affordable housing without displacement. Gradually, Black communities are changing. As new retail businesses and property values rise, so does the worry of gentrification in neighborhoods such as Bronzeville, Washington Park, East Garfield and near West Side areas where predominantly African-American residents have called home since the Great Migration.

The remapping of aldermanic and congressional districts has resulted in a shift of neighborhoods that once held some of the highest number of Black constituents. The demolition of CHA housing projects, such as Cabrini-Green, have been replaced by single townhomes, moderate retail businesses and new faces walking their freshly groomed dogs.

Across town, a stretch of grassy land along State Street south of 47th St. lay vacant where the Robert Taylor Homes were home for nearly 45 years for thousands of Black families. Over time, the housing projects were breeding grounds for crime, violence and drugs – leading to CHA demolishing the projects that once nurtured a solid sense of community for many working-class families.

The result of dismantling these projects has pushed out thousands of African-American residents to neighboring suburbs, gradually pulling economic resources from neighborhood businesses.

One of the issues of concern from business owners is the growing overhead expenses. As taxes increases with local, county and state, it impacts hiring employees, health care, financial resources and qualifying for MBE/WBE certification.

As more businesses are persuaded by our elected officials, community stakeholders and organizations to invest in communities that would greatly benefit, TIF funds are essential in helping to revitalize our neighborhoods that once stood financially independent in the 1950s- early 1980s. 

There is no question, there is an abundance of issues that affect our community, but each area of interest has a profound influence on how we vote. These issues have touched us directly or indirectly, whether it’s a parent or grandparent losing their home to foreclosure, a brother or sister incarcerated — leaving their kids for a relative to care for, or worse, in the care of strangers.

It could be our son or daughter lost to gun violence because of loose gun-control laws, allowing straw purchases out of state. The lack of quality health care can affect whether we live or die, having a trauma center within 10 minutes from our home or 30 minutes in traffic.

Our community is one of the most vulnerable because many of us give up — feeling like the system has given up on us — not understanding we have the power in our hands.

Follow Mary L. Datcher on Twitter

 

 

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