Business leader says Fiscal Cliff Still Exists for Blacks
by Barry Cooper, The NorthStar News & Analysis
Last-minute legislation by Congress at year’s end helped the United States avoid a so-called “fiscal cliff,” but African-Americans remain in financial peril, according to Robert L. Johnson, chairman of The RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television. Johnson, in a news release intended to put pressure on President Barack Obama, cited a Dec. 14, 2012, article in the Washington Post that noted that the black unemployment rate is twice the rate of whites.
Johnson wants Obama to pass what Johnson calls “The RLJ Rule” to accelerate the hiring of African-Americans. In his press release, Johnson wrote:
“The RLJ Rule (1) encourages companies to voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified minority candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above; and, (2) companies would interview at least two qualified minority-owned firms for vendor supplier/services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor. The RLJ Rule is an adaptation of the National Football League’s (NFL) Rooney Rule , which afforded minority candidates seeking head-coaching or general manager positions within the League to be considered before a final hiring decision.”
Johnson said he met with President Obama a year ago to discuss his concerns about black unemployment. The meeting took place at the White House, Johnson said, and was attended by a number of black business owners and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. It was part of an effort to encourage Obama, as the nation’s first African-American president, to create a program that would appeal directly to black men and women.
“We as Black Americans are facing a fiscal cliff of our own in the disparity of unemployment,” Johnson said. “In my lifetime, Black unemployment has always been twice that of White Americans. This is an unjustified disparity that must not be allowed to continue unless we are willing to accept once again a nation that is economically separate and unequal.”
In his press release, Johnson cited several passages from the Washington Post story:
• The African American jobless rate is about twice that of whites, a disparity that has barely budged since the government began tracking the data in 1972. In last week’s jobs report, the black unemployment rate was 13.2 percent, while the white rate stood at 6.8 percent.
• Discrimination has long been seen as the primary reason for this disparity, which is evident among workers from engineers to laborers. But fresh research has led scholars to conclude that African Americans also suffer in the labor market because they have weaker social networks than other groups.
• The racial gap in the unemployment rate defies educational attainment and occupational endeavor. African Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree had a 7.1 percent jobless rate in 2011, while the white rate was 3.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• Similarly, black workers with only a high school education had a jobless rate of 15.5 percent, while similarly educated white workers had an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent.
• Black workers in computer and mathematical occupations — which job-training officials say are hard to fill — had an 8.1 percent jobless rate last year, while for whites the rate was 4.1 percent.
• Among construction workers, who were hard hit by the recession, the black jobless rate was 30.4 percent, compared with 15.3 percent for whites.
Johnson’s push for an RLJ rule has been endorsed, Johnson says, by the Congressional Black Caucus; the National Urban League led by Marc Morial, and the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc. led by Ron Busby. Whether President Obama will act on the suggestion or support similar legislation is debatable. Since taking office, the president has adopted a “rising tide lifts all boats” approach, meaning he feels that as the country improves overall, then so will the lives of African-Americans. But Johnson and others say they will continue to press Obama to address the needs of African-Americans directly, especially on unemployment.
The end — or temporary end — of the fiscal crisis did help some blacks by keeping unemployment benefits in place for more than 2 million Americans. However, Johnson points out that permanent, well-paying jobs are more important for blacks than are unemployment benefits, which are temporary.
Johnson said in his news release: “The RLJ Rule, if embraced by all U.S. companies large and small, can point the way as President Obama noted in his 2011 remarks at Osawatomie, Kansas, that ‘In America we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share… everyone in America gets a fair shot at success.’”
“If companies voluntarily implement the RLJ Rule they can further their commitment to reduce the employment disparity among African Americans, and in doing so, we can demonstrate the fact that talented African-Americans, if given the opportunity, can succeed at the highest levels, and we will close the employment gap between Black and White Americans.”
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