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Who Will Get the 2.5 Million New Jobs?

NNPA , Commentary, Ron Walters Posted: Jan 09, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama has been formulating plans for the Stimulus Package that will be enacted shortly after he takes office.

Many people have asked Whats next? now that we have a Black president and many of the answers have been abstract. However, coming down the pike is the largest amount of social and economic funding to be invested in moving the economy and the country forward we have seen in a long time.

More recently, however, he has adjusted his goal to 3-3.5 million jobs because of analyses that show the probability that the economy will lose 3.5 million jobs in all of 2009.

Yet this goal should be juxtaposed against the size of the growing Black unemployment rate, estimated to be 12 percent at present, which would be viewed as a crisis if it were a national figure.

It has always mystified me why government officials and economists consider this as normal with respect to Blacks. The truth is that it has always been a crisis, but neither Democratic nor Republican officials have cared enough to enact special measures targeted to this population of 40 million to help it achieve employment parity.

So, my question is who will get those jobs? More directly, since the Black unemployment rate could reach 20 percent by the end of next year, and they have had difficulty accessing jobs in normal times, whether this fact will be taken into consideration in the Obama administration.

Everyone talks about education as the remedy, but education is a very long range strategy and is not guaranteed to bring about employment parity, when racism still influences who gets a job when employers can detect that a Black person is at the other end of the application process.

Studies still show that Whites with a prison record and a high school education are able to secure employment in a greater measure than Blacks with a college degree or a Black-sounding name. For Blacks to get those jobs the Obama administration will need to vigorously enforce the laws against employment discrimination.

Second, the announced targets for job creation by Obama in areas such as infrastructure, healthcare, environment and others, creates some doubt that the available jobs will be distributed equitably. For example, in infrastructure jobs, Hispanics are poised to consume them, having crowded out Black Americans and others, to use a concept of some economists, in trades such as construction, landscaping and other pertinent employment categories. Then, Blacks are no better poised in the healthcare industry to obtain jobs that have quickly been appropriated by immigrants from many countries, from the Caribbean and Latin America to the Middle East.

Finally, in the environmental industry, the increase of jobs from 1990 to 2006 was just over 440,000, so with this sector of the economy targeted for growth, Blacks could obtain a significant number of jobs with adequate training.

All of this means that since states can deploy workers in shovel-ready jobs in the low-wage category rather quickly, there should be an acute sensitivity to the fierce racial/ethnic competition that exists.

Otherwise, since increased employment in other sectors will require training, what could enable Blacks to become more competitive is the creation of a more powerful job-training model that encompasses features of the old CETA (Comprehensive Education and Training Act) and the currently ineffective JPTA (Job Partnership Training Act).

It should enable states to provide the funding to a variety of service providers (high schools, community colleges, churches, small businesses, social service organizations and etc.) to re-establish a priority on training the most disadvantaged low income American citizens for higher paying jobs.

If Blacks are not poised to take advantage of it, they will not only lose one of the most important economic opportunities in history, but also fail to provide our own answer to the question of what it means to have Barack Obama in the White House. His job is to open the doors, ours is to fight to open it wide enough to that we can obtain the equal benefits of American citizenship.

Dr. Ron Walters is director of the African American Leadership Center and professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is The Price of Racial Reconciliation.

Related Articles:

California Officials Eye Stimulus Money

Black Middle Class in Crisis

Black Businesses Will Benefit from Stimulus Plan

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