02-19-2017  1:13 pm      •     

While a Department of Education program embraces "a race to the top", our nation's current stance toward our 14 million officially unemployed people represents nothing less than a race to the bottom. We are content to report, month after month, unemployment rates in excess of nine percent, to use questionable language to describe tepid performance, and to assuage ourselves with myths that the economy is in recovery because GDP growth is up. Imagine that one of our children came home from school with a report card that showed a drop from a C- to a D, and she reported her grades as "substantially unchanged". She would, substantially, find her allowance cut, her study hours increased, her privileges restricted. But when high unemployment continues month after month, an unsatisfactory outcome in and of itself, we hear nonsense and platitudes.

Fourteen million people are just the tip of the iceberg. When we look at those who are discouraged, dropped out of the labor market, and all of that, we are looking at something closer to 20 million people. Among African Americans we are looking at more than one in four without work, and in inner cities, we are looking at nearly one in two men who do not work. Employers won't create jobs, government won't create jobs, and rhetoric won't put people back to work.

Then, what are we to do? If traditional job creation will not fill the void, we must consider the possibility of encouraging entrepreneurship so that people can be trained to create jobs for themselves. Enslaved people were some of our nation's original entrepreneurs. What kind of job creation ability did it take for some of us to purchase ourselves. Throughout our history, there are people who never joined the Fortune 500, but who created jobs and opportunities for themselves and for others through entrepreneurship.

Elizabeth Keckley, the seamstress who bought her freedom and worked for Mary Todd Lincoln, and others in Washington, is an example of the kind of entrepreneurial ability so many of the formerly enslaved exhibited. Thomas Day built a furniture manufacturing company in North Carolina in 1837. Elijah McCoy, "the real McCoy" invented the lubricating cup that became an essential part of locomotive manufacturing in 1872, and made millions from that invention. AG Gaston was an entrepreneur with interests in insurance, funeral homes, broadcasting, public relations, banking, and the hospitality industry. And the list goes on. All these folk are African American, many are little know, and each of them is a story of inspiration for someone who is out of work.

Entrepreneurship will not replace traditional employment; indeed, entrepreneurs create employment opportunities for those who do not have them. Even as this administration grapples with our tepid economy, it seems that there ought to be some conversation about encouraging entrepreneurs to create value in an economy that seems to devalue the lives, and efforts of at least 20 million of our citizens, those who want to work but can find nothing. It is interesting that some banks were described as "too big to fail", but we have easily tolerated failure in the labor market. In other words, our government was prepared to protect stockholders and bond markets, but not to protect people. The message is that if you are a banker, government will manage your risk so thoroughly that you can jump on your high horse and talk about deficit reduction just a few minutes after you have been bailed out. On the other hand, if you hold a mortgage or a job, you might as well line up for a beat-down because you are not too big to fail, indeed, you are too small to pay attention to.

Our economy is racing to the bottom because we have failed to pay attention to the details, to the small stuff, to the individuals who are being ground down and spit out by this economy. But the very folks who have been marginalized have to be the ones who will rise up and make a difference in our nation's direction. Just as there are those who formed a Tea party, what would happen if the galvanized marginalized formed the Unemployed Party, the Worker's Party, or the Economic Justice Party. Then the race to the bottom might turn into an explosion at the top. Or, next month and the month after and the month after, we will continue to read tepid reports about the labor market, and continue to wring our hands about the injustice of it all.



Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women. Her book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History, is available at www.lastwordprod.com.



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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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