Growing up in Chicagos South Side in the 1960s, the saying went around that when America sneezed, the black community caught a cold. Today, as our country endures what most economists expect to end up as the worst crisis since the Great Depression, black families can brace themselves for the economic equivalent of a life-threatening bout of pneumonia.That gloomy outlook is evidenced by February jobless figures for the U.S. that show 8.2 percent of whites were officially unemployed; for blacks, the figure was 13.8 percent. Many actions need to be taken to address this economic inequity. One very important step is the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.This legislation will help to increase workers abilities to bargain with their employers for better wages, and thats especially important for black workers, whose economic problems started long ago. During the 27 years after World War II, median incomes for black families rose by 131 percent after inflation, reflecting the migration of blacks away from the rural South, the gains from the Civil Rights Movement, effective public policies such as the minimum wage laws, and the presence of a strong union movement. In contrast, between 1973 and 2007 median black family incomes rose by only 33 percent. This anemic growth rate (mirrored for workers of all races) reflected greater global economic competition, the rise to dominance of the conservative movement whose aim was to weaken pro-worker social and economic policies, and the diminished strength of unions in the face of these transformations. But for black working families, it meant adults often were forced to work multiple jobs, high school and college-age youth were forced to sacrifice schooling opportunities in order to earn money for their families, and some household members had to find employment in the underground economy.When our current recession began, the black community faced a two-dimensional job crisis: all-too-familiar unemployment and a ghettoization into primarily low-wage work. Two years ago, 8.3 percent of blacks were officially unemployed; at the same time, close to half of all full-time black workers earned less than $30,000 which is just under twice the federal poverty level for a family of three.For the black community, the Employee Free Choice Act will enhance the chances of earning better pay and benefits by removing some of the current barriers to workers forming a union. And thats important. Workers in unions receive 14.1 percent higher wages overall than their counterparts who are not in unions. For black workers, the advantage of joining a union is even greater by 18.3 percent. Black workers in unions also have a higher likelihood of enjoying employer-based health care and a pension, compared to their nonunion counterparts. These are the type of wage and benefit gains that move people into the middle class.Maybe this is why blacks strongly favor passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. A December 2008 poll by Peter Hart and Associates found that 88 percent of African Americans favor the legislation.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.