To many, the state of race relations in America is declining. Whether we admit it or not, recent polls have shown a majority of Americans believe race relations with the African-American community are at their lowest point in a generation. Worse still, some feel America’s close to duplicating the racially tinged social upheaval that marked the 1960’s. After the recent Milwaukee Uprising and protests in Charlotte, it’s hard to deny this trend is developing.
Ironically, this social disintegration comes in an era when members of the African-American community have reached the highest levels in the government, arts, sports, medicine, business, and the sciences. Against this backdrop of high-level achievement, it’s alarming to see the increase in racial tensions recently sweeping America. After the optimism spawned by the Civil Rights movement, we’re now faced with the grim reality that for many blacks, America’s promise of opportunity is fading.
Several factors come into play when discussing recent racial problems. Obviously, many in the black community have come to view law enforcement differently than other Americans. It’s hard to deny that the relationship between African-Americans and the police has changed the past few years. Although it’s tempting to blame either just the police, or the black community for recent tensions, analysis reveals a more complex situation. Unfortunately, without honest debate, the complexities of the situation become obscured and politicized to a breaking point.
Regarding the situation with law enforcement, many of us note that most police are ethical individuals doing a tough job in difficult times. Therefore, just blaming the police for recent tensions misses the mark. However, this doesn’t change the fact that many African-Americans not only feel they’re treated differently, they can actually point to statistics and instances which seem to bolster their claims. Compounding things is the fact that many in the media blame either just the black community, or the police for racial problems. Although this approach can lead to a ratings bonanza for the media, it adds fuel to a heated debate.
Hopefully, there can be honest discussion on all sides of this current crisis. This discussion needs to not only deal with current police practices and ways to seek improvements, but also focus on the ongoing lack of economic opportunity in the black community. As many know, poverty and lack of jobs adds to social tensions.
Unfortunately, African-Americans have been caught in the middle of an ongoing hard-nosed political-economic controversy the past 50 years. Ever since “The War on Poverty” was launched, there’s been intense focus on black Americans as recipients of government aid. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that although the “War on Poverty” had positive attributes, it compounded racial tensions.
Another factor contributing to an increase in tensions is the fact that both the unemployment rate and underemployment rate for the African-American community are much higher than average. In many metro areas, this lack of opportunity is devastating.
Although the “The War on Poverty” focused somewhat on employment, it could’ve recognized more the true impact work has on an individual’s sense of self and their place in their community. As many note, a problem with economic theory is that it addresses unemployment in a dry, statistical manner. Lost in the way many politicians approach this issue is the fact that work is tied in with someone’s dreams for a respectful life. Without steady employment, dreams are often squashed.
An ongoing dilemma of modern economics is the employment-dream equation. To combat this, it’d be wise to raise the value of work to more importance in modern America. And yes, although globalism’s here to stay, we can do better at keeping jobs here. Also, we need to realize that our commonly stated unemployment figure doesn’t count those who quit looking for work, and those underemployed. Sadly, overlooking these factors means that large swaths of able-bodied Americans can’t fulfill their dreams. As we know, lack of economic opportunity creates a breeding ground for both crime, and the racial profiling that can evolve as a way to combat it.
As for addressing the serious issue of unemployment-underemployment in America, we need to think creatively. Suggestions to improve employment range from rethinking trade pacts to keep jobs here, to expanding government jobs to create a modern and more urban version of the Youth Conservation Corps. In line with this, an expansion of the Conservation Corps can create permanent infrastructure jobs for adults. As for market incentives, consideration needs to be given to expanding tax credits and exemptions for small business healthcare insurance, and a simplification of small business legal and zoning regulations. Too often, gang members in metro areas complain they feel trapped in the gang lifestyle since jobs are sparse, and the ability to open a small business seems impossible.
On a global basis, countries such as Japan have had low unemployment because they value it. If America truly wants to, it can embrace a culture of work and achievement for all. To truly address racial problems, America must first have the political will to stop kicking the can down the road and become committed to a truly transparent full employment. If we can do this, America’s metro areas can become revitalized and the culture of poverty enveloping many African-Americans will be lessened. When increasing economic opportunity is combined with improving police practices, America’s current racial divide can begin to heal.