Thursday, December 1, 2011

Plight of the Black Middle-Class

There is a common theme that runs through the following stories:

The New York Times lays out the disproportionate impact that public sector layoffs have had on African-Americans. Historically, the federal government discriminated less than other sources of middle-class jobs, making public sector work the backbone of the black middle class for generations. Now, that backbone is taking hit after hit. Even before this wave of government layoffs, the African-American middle class was struggling to stay middle class:

A study by the Brookings Institution in 2007 found that fewer than one-third of blacks born to middle-class parents went on to earn incomes greater than their parents, compared with more than two-thirds of whites from the same income bracket. The foreclosure crisis also wiped out a large part of a generation of black homeowners.

The second article was written by Al Sharpton:

In June of 2009, the economic recession was officially declared over. Despite the fact that millions remained unemployed, families were still foreclosed upon in record numbers and more children went hungry than most of us could have ever imagined, many had us buy into the notion that the worst was behind us and things were on an upward trajectory. Well, for the African American community, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Black layoffs have only skyrocketed since that time as the public sector - heavily comprised of a Black workforce - continues to slash jobs. And as a result, not only has Black wealth diminished, but so too has the existence of much of this nation's Black middle class itself. Black, White or Brown - that is a startling reality that should have all of us deeply concerned.

According to a study released earlier this year by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Blacks were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector. And while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs as reported in a recent New York Times piece, public employment has seen massive layoffs across the board. Whether it's teachers, firefighters, police officers, or any other form of municipal work, the public sector has been under attack from Wisconsin to NJ and everywhere in between. From losing their bargaining rights to bearing the brunt of city and state budget cuts, public service employees are watching their entire life savings disappear. And because about 1 in 5 Blacks work in civil service, we are disproportionately suffering yet again during these tough times.

In the U.S. postal service alone, about 25% of employees are Black. It is precisely because of work in this industry and in other government entities that we were finally able to climb the economic and societal ladder, and eventually begin to achieve the proverbial American dream of home ownership. An entire Black middle class emerged via civil service jobs, and we are now tragically close to witnessing the greatest stumbling block to progress that will literally set us back decades. But we can - and we must - do something to halt this injustice that so clearly threatens our immediate future.

On December 9th, my organization, National Action Network, will do its part to address this issue and more as we mobilize a 25-city simultaneous day-of-action around Jobs and Justice. A follow-up to our October 15th rally in Washington, D.C., the December 9th march will continue to focus on growing economic disparity, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state. We will call attention to disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed groups, attacks on the public sector and the ever-growing wealth gap. We will push for economic growth, job creation and concrete, substantive ideas that truly begin to get people back to work. And we will call out all those who stand in the way. source

The common theme is that - bottom line - African Americans do not create enough jobs for other African Americans; therefore, we overly depend on government and the public sector for employment (on this point I agree with my GOP black conservatives friends).

And placed in the position of economic dependency, we remain far too vulnerable to forces outside of our control. As a case in point, whenever America suffers an economic trauma, the black community is disproportionately affected - as the time-tested and proven saying goes:

When white America catches a cold, black America gets pneumonia.

African Americans have reached the buying power of one trillion dollars. This vividly illustrates that the problem is not money or income - the problem is lack of a comprehensive wealth building strategy. The problem is - in the year 2011 - we still do use our dollars and resources to nurse our community to fiscal health.

And with all do respect to Rev. Sharpton, we do not need another march begging for jobs. In fact,many of the jobs being erased are gone forever. For example, Rev. Al takes issue with Postal Service layoffs.

However, with more people texting and sending e-mails as opposed to writing letters, the Postal Service will continue to trim more jobs. These jobs are Gone With the Wind.

In lieu of marching/begging, we would be better served to host self-empowerment symposiums or educational conferences in city after city, region after region (starting with February- black history month) on the following topics:

  1. Research data on goods & services blacks purchase on a daily basis
  2. How can we develop alternate sources of capital, e.g. asset holding companies to finance business growth in our community
  3. Value and power of the black dollar
  4. How to mainstream financial literacy
  5. The value of good credit and how to maintain good credit
  6. How to create a job
  7. How to build wealth
No Argument From Me

Corporate America and Wall Street are running roughshod on Main Street America. Agreed.
Corporate America could do more to alleviate the economic hardship of the average family. Agreed.
Government needs to intervene to protect the average American taxpayer from Wall Street's criminal behavior. Agreed
Government with the private sector should create more jobs by investing in the Greening of American and improving our infrastructure. Once again, agreed

By agreeing to the validity of the above statements does not mean we should just wait on sound government to do its job. No, quite the contrary, we should not relinquish the power we have in our own hands to transform our present and future.

At the end of the day we have to live with the results of our action or inaction.


  1. I love your ideas! Have you contacted anyone about trying to make them happen? I'm going to tweet some folks now. Hope it helps!

  2. I don't know where you're located, but if these folks are set up in your city, you should take advantage of their service.

    If you don't have the knowledge to run/teach a class yourself, recruit a local business person to help you organize something and be a guest speaker. Hold classes in your home with half a dozen people to start. Everyone we reach is worth something!

  3. @Jill
    Thanks for the comments and the support- the numbers of readers was through the roof...I currently live in Wash, DC and as a former school teacher, I like to think I have the skill set to make things happen - organizationally speaking, but I will def connect with the channels you have suggested.

    I also have a network of folks ready to launch...and yes I like ur idea of baby steps - "beginning with a half dozen people to start"...a few years back I hosted seminar on a related topic and it was well received.

    I can also be reached at for more of ur valuable ideas - let's make it happen! Let's keep in contact family...

  4. Good morning, Harvey!

    I tweeted this blog post to @goldietaylor, @StanCates, @VanJones68 (Yes, that Van Jones) and a couple others. And Van Jones actually ReTweeted your blog to all of his followers (39,000+) - how nice is that? Then it got ReTweeted by @SmokinJoesTruth, @MIIHP and @mykatmikey.

    I recommend you reach out to all the RTers and introduce yourself, as they obviously liked what you had to say enough to pass your blog on.

    I'm out in L.A., as is Stan Cates, so if you gentlemen work something out for some seminars or such out here, let me know and I'll pitch in how I can. Obviously I can speak to the importance of networking! ;)

    Keep me posted! Send me a Tweet so I can follow you.

    Have an awesome day!

  5. Oh heck, this would help, huh? @jillwklausen LOL

  6. Found some more folks who RTed your blog: @normansigler & zaswadosaze. Norman is an Executive Recruiter and Career Coach in Seattle. Mark, who I listed above, describes himself as, "I like to help people and small businesses reach their potential." I think these are some good contacts for you to have.

    I also mistyped one of the Twitter names above; it's @stanscates, not @stancates.

  7. @jebon just "favorited" the tweet of this blog post.

  8. Greetings Brother Ben:

    I have marinated on your blog post “Plight of the Black Middle-Class” for a couple of weeks with the intent of posting a comment much sooner, however better late than never. At any rate, kudos to HGP for such a well written and timely article.

    Your article touched on some of the major issues that have contributed to the demise of the Black Middle Class as it specifically relates to public sector employment.

    How many times can we recall our parents saying to us “Son/Daughter just get a good government job and you’ll be set for life”. Well I got myself a good government job and found my set; Set with no raise in over five years and countless non-paid furlough days, all resulting in a $10,000 decrease in my net income over the past few years; ultimately being downsized from the government workforce, which lead me to the unemployment office. So now what Big Momma?

    What our parents didn’t tell us was “Son/Daughter, Be sure not to put all of your eggs in one basket; Be sure that when you make it on your good government job you spend your money in your own community; Be sure you support the struggling Black owned convenience store on the corner; Be sure to develop an entrepreneurial spirit so that you can open up your own business one day and employ others from within your community just in case the good government jobs go away. What our parents didn’t say is that if you don’t stay and provide for the Black community, others will come in and take it over by offering what you should be providing such as Asian owned beauty supply shops that sell all black hair products; Asian owned soul food restaurants (how did they learn to cook soul food?); Asian/Arab owned convenience stores and gas stations).

    In all fairness to our parents, who could have ever imagined that teachers, police officers, firefighters, postal workers and other similar careers would experience such a devastating loss of jobs and security. All of which have resulted in the staggering loss of our overall economic status as a Middle Class Community. We’ve lost our homes, automobiles, savings and retirement accounts along with other assets, but importantly, we seem to have lost our since of community that so existed prior to desegregation.

    While I personally agree with both you and the Rev. Al Sharpton, our strategy cannot be one dimensional. It has to be multi-faceted from an organizational standpoint. You are absolutely correct, marching alone won’t resolve our crisis; however we need to continue marching for justice and equality just as we did during the Civil Rights Movement. So on that note, I favor organizing marches. However, in addition to marching, we must establish grass roots initiatives geared toward economic empowerment. I believe one reader stated that we should assemble/meet in our living rooms to discuss economic empowerment.

    I am total agreement with this approach as well as the need to develop Black Owned Asset Holding Companies and any other common sense approaches that help to empower our community and secure our future.

    With every day that passes and with each news report I hear that speaks to the rising number of people in need of government assistance (i.e. Food Stamps, Medicaid, Welfare, etc.), I am convinced now more than ever that our future and our children’s futures rests solely on our shoulders. It’s time we realize that no one is coming to the Black Community’s rescue. If we don’t save ourselves from poverty, no one else will.

    Having said that, let’s continue the much needed dialogue on this issue, but let’s also take our community back so that we can provide employment to our own. Let’s establish a think tank and/or working group to develop some concrete strategies toward Black Economic Empowerment.

    Continue the great work………

    Gregory Allen, MBA, Owner/President
    Xtreme Entertainment, Inc.