Romney and Republicans: Keeping Black America In The Red

Terrance Heath

I confess, when I heard Mitt Romney would be making his official pitch for the African-American vote at the NAACP convention, I groaned. “Why, oh why couldn’t it have been Newt Gingrich?” Seriously, it would have been so much more fun to watch. Or even Rick Santorum. Newt’s remarks about the Black folks and foodstamps, and Santorum’s problem with “blah people” on welfare would have made more interesting viewing. Not to mention an opportunity guess the odds that either candidate would “go there” with an audience that’s wasn’t predominantly “old, fat, and white.”

Chances are neither Santorum nor Gingrich would’ve had the nerve. While Romney doesn’t either, his policies reveal the same thing that Gingrich’s and Santorum’s suggested: that the GOP’s “problem” with African-American voters has everything to do with the conservative failure keeping Black America in the red.

Probably nothing illustrates this than the conservative solution to the African American unemployment.

Romney rattled off the usual dismal statistics on African-Americans and employment and education. And then Romney said what Gingrich and Santorum would likely have said. The conservative solution to do the unemployment crisis in African-American communities is simple: Everybody get married.

 I’m hopeful that together we can set a new direction in federal policy, starting where many of our problems do – with the family. A study from the Brookings Institution has shown that for those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and wait until 21 before they marry and then have their first child, the probability of being poor is two percent. And if those factors are absent, the probability of being poor is 76 percent.

Here at the NAACP, you understand the deep and lasting difference the family makes. Your former executive director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, had it exactly right. The family, he said, “remains the bulwark and the mainstay of the black community. That great truth must not be overlooked.”

Any policy that lifts up and honors the family is going to be good for the country, and that must be our goal. As President, I will promote strong families – and I will defend traditional marriage.

So Mitt Romney’s plan for the economic uplift in African-American communities is to oppose marriage equality. 

As you imagine, I have a lot to say about this. I’d say it again, but I said it almost one year before Romney’s speech to the NAACP. Little has changed since then: Romney and Republicans still need to get real about jobs or African American unemployment.

This Thursday, CAF will host The Summit on Jobs & America’s Future. We’ll talk about how to create the jobs America needs for a real recovery. Meanwhile, House Republicans will hold hearings on Islam. House Speaker John Boehner will launch an effort to Defend the Defense of Marriage Act. Apparently, that’s what passes as a jobs agenda on his planet.

At least someone in Washington will be talking about job creation.

At the same time, the Heritage Foundation just launched a website, FamilyFacts.Org, that touts marriage as an economic cure-all, while blaming single-parenting (single mothers in particular) and out-of-wedlock births for all manner of economic ills. I guess they live on the same planet as John Boehner.

I visited that planet last month, when I attended CPAC— a three-day conference that had nothing to say about job creation. It wasn’t on the agenda. I did sit through the “Traditional Marriage and Society” panel, which featured two African American speakers. I marveled that — given the unemployment crisis facing African American communitiesthis is what these two speakers came all the way to Washington to address. I wasn’t surprised, though. The right has been too successful at getting “Black People Who Should Know Better”™, to hop on that train to nowhere for too long.

Attacking my marriage won’t change the marriage rates or the employment rates — or lower poverty rates — in African American communities. None of that appears to be the point. I’d say the point is that they’re not interested in creating jobs in black communities. If they were, well… Here’s what I’d say.

A brother generally needs a paycheck before he can afford to “put a ring on it.” A 2006 poll conducted by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University found that “Black men report the same ambitions as most Americans — for career success, a loving marriage, children, respect.” But in this recession black male unemployment has reached depression era levels. Some 8% of us lost our jobs between 2007 and 2009.

You want to promote marriage in African American communities? Start with job creation.

You want to create jobs in African American communities? Stop giving corporations tax breaks for off-shoring jobs, and bring back manufacturing jobs. The thirty-year slow bleed of manufacturing jobs out of this country hurt African Americans disproportionately. In 1979, almost one in four African American workers had manufacturing jobs. By 2008, fewer than one-in-ten were in manufacturing.

Black men were hit particularly hard, because they were over-represented in those jobs. In many cases, these were  the best jobs black men could get, and often the only “good jobs” that were open to them. I say this as a college educated African American man, and the son of a father who laced up his work boots, put on a hard hat, and carried an industrial strength lunchbox to work every day, because he didn’t work behind a desk.

My father started out working behind a mule and a plow. His parents were sharecroppers. He didn’t have a college degree, yet held down a “good job” with a salary that took our family from sharecropping to middle class, in one generation. That “good job” made it possible for my mother (who had her own business as a beautician before she married) not to work outside of the home, and for their children to have a better start in life then they did.

If you want more marriages like my parents’ 50-year, “til-death-do-us-part” marriage, and more men like my father, you’d better start with more jobs like his.

You want to create jobs in African American communities? Stop attacking unions that made those “good jobs” good through collective bargaining, and helped build the black middle class. Stop attacking unions that were in the forefront of the civil rights movement. It’s no coincidence that the decline in manufacturing jobs that impacted many African Americans was paralleled by a decline in African American representation in unions.

Remember Martin Luther King last speech, before his assassination? He was in Memphis, TN, to support a union, because he understood how importance of the  labor movement to the economic future of African Americans. Dr. King stood with public unions when they were under attack, and died supporting public employees’ right to organize themselves into unions.

In fact, Romney and the Republicans have it backwards on economic decline and marriage rates.

 Not that it will matter to Gingrich, Santorum or many other conservatives, but a new Brookings Institute study shows that conservatives have it backwards on economic decline and declining marriage rates.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project is out with a new study showing a strong correlation between income and marriage. While marriage rates have dropped as a whole over the last few decades, there’s been much a steeper decline in marriage among low-income Americans. Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney suggest that one reason for that drop is that labor-market changes that have altered marriage prospects for those trying to make ends meet, countering conservative claims that social norms and values are responsible for the trend.

Marriage rates among lower-income men and women have declined, but Greenstone and Looney offer different explanations for each gender. Among men, they say, those “that experienced the most adverse economic changes also experienced the largest declines in marriage” between 1970s and the present day.

By contrast, women have made big gains in the labor market over the past few decades. But their greater participation in the workforce–combined with a low-income male population, increasing prison rates for men, high unemployment and diminished earning power–has also kept more women from marrying. As s result, there’s a similar, if less dramatic, correlation between income and marriage among women

Romney’s history alone doesn’t inspire confidence that his policies would even get the African-American unemployment rate down to the same level as the national unemployment rate.

Remember, this is a guy who touts his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency. But Romney was an “outsourcing pioneer,” as well as a “vulture capitalist,” who created more jobs in China than he created here (most of which were low-wage, and offered no path to middle class-status).

How many of the jobs Romney made millions outsourcing, or helping other companies outsource, while at Bain Capital belonged to African American men, who were over represented in those jobs, and thus disproportionately impacted by the loss of those jobs?

The public sector is bleeding jobs at the state and local level — more than 600,000 since 2009 — as a direct result of three years of de facto austerity forced on city and state governments by conservatives as conservatives obstructed any form of economic stimulus that might have aided state and local governments, including money to help states and municipalities retain or rehire teachers and first-responders, and even opposed a smaller bill to help keep teachers in the classroom. Mitt Romney has joined his party’s war on public sector workers, declaring the America needs fewer teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.

How many of those public sector jobs were filled by African Americans — men and women (especially women) who have hit hardest job by the public sector job loss that’s decimating the black middle class

African Americans were targeted and sometimes pushed into subprime loans, and many are now struggling with financial burdens of debt and destroyed credit that may last generations, because of the same financial sector deregulation that Republicans want to bring back, and that Mitt Romney championed in his speech to the NAACP.

As he wrapped up his speech, Mitt Romney made it clear that he would he would be a “severely conservative,” and will continue the same conservative policies, the same disastrous consequences for African Americans. The same conservative obstruction and intransigence that choking off the recovery will leave African Americans in the red.

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