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Dr Benjamin Chavis Jr. for the NNPA
Published: 08 March 2011

Even though the unemployment rate in the United States is finally beginning to inch downward, the painful truth is that African American unemployment continues to remain at a crisis level. While the overall economic forecast appears to be improving each month for the last year, the official national unemployment for the first time in more than two years is at 8.9 percent.

There are more than 13.7 million unemployed persons in the United States, as of this month. But, Black American unemployment persists in double digits above 15.3 percent. For teenagers in our communities, the unemployment rate is more than 40 percent. All labor surveys show that African Americans have the highest rate of unemployment of all groups surveyed. These unemployment percentages indicate a dire socioeconomic condition for the African American community in 2011.

President Barack Obama stated, "Our top priority right now has to be creating new jobs and opportunities in a fiercely competitive world. And this week, we received very good news on that front. We learned that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in nearly two years as our economy added another 222,000 private sector jobs last month." We agree with the stated priorities of President Obama. The challenge, however, for the African American community is to increase meaningful and productive job creation for African Americans and others ahead of the current pace of increased employment because of the disproportionate high unemployment in our community.

Understanding the magnitude of the problem is important. But just restating the devastating impact of high unemployment is not going to produce the solutions that we need. Improving the quality of education in the African American community is an important factor to help increase employment opportunities. Increasing the establishment of African American owned businesses is another key factor in creating new jobs and economic sustainability for the African American community. Private jobs are now showing the greatest increase in the overall national employment rate. Simply put, we need more Black American entrepreneurs and we need more businesses to be established and owned by Black Americans so that they can contribute directly to the increase in providing more employment opportunities for African Americans and others.

There is a direct relationship between the entrenched Black American poverty rates and the persistent Black American unemployment rates. But, these two social indicators are also directly related to the issue of education, particularly to the issue of a high quality education for Black American children. Children in our communities are three times likely to be poor as White children according to the 2010 U.S. Census Report. More than 40 percent of African American children are born in poverty. Economically impoverished children given an inadequate education is a formula not only for acute unemployment, but it is also a recipe for prolonged social misery, unjust imprisonment and intractable poverty.

I salute the continued efforts and leadership of Marion Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund to call renewed national attention to the systemic problems and challenges concerning African American and other children. Edelman emphasized, "We need to revive a policy voice for children. The cradle-to-prison pipeline - breaking it up is going to be the overall framework from which we move forward." Over the years the Children's Defense Fund has led the way in identifying programs and projects that work in the interests of the proper development of our children, in addition to articulating the public policy interests of all children in America. Today, with the economic challenges of the nation and calls for severe budget cuts, it appears that a number of programs that will affect the quality of life for children in the United States may be cut. Thus, the issue of economic resources that need to be generated and dedicated to help remedy these issues is of great concern.

There will be no easy solutions going forward. But, one thing is clear: our long struggle for freedom, justice, equality, and empowerment is not over. While we have to keep our demands and pressure on the federal and state governments for responsible political and social policies in the areas of employment and education, as well as for child and family development, it will be increasingly important for all of us to find new and innovative means to take a greater responsibility for the economic development of the African American community specifically to ensure that we ourselves do more to create the businesses, jobs, schools, and other institutions that we need to improve our quality of life for our children and for our future.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Senior Advisor to the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation.

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