Thursday, December 03, 2009
The Black Middle Class is on Life Support in Post-Obama America.
When Barack H. Obama was elected president in 2008, he won on a platform of hope and change. Political Pundits called America “Post Racial” and declared that all was right with the world. That starry night in November was filled with tears of joy. Black women and men wept like children. Their tears were for all the people that made that night a reality. This election was also a validation of the black middle class. These were black folks that did everything the “right way” and didn’t feel the need to apologize for it. They received an education and used their degrees to obtain jobs. They started in their companies at the bottom and worked their way up. They used the money from their jobs to buy homes and put their children through college. Meanwhile they built wealth for their families and went on annual family vacations. Many obtained job titles to place in front of their names. They became the model of what you could do if given the opportunity. Don’t think for one moment that it was easy for them. They still dealt with racism (even in Post-Obama America things haven’t changed) but they always bounced back to fight another day. Booker T. Washington would have been proud.
Almost a year later the black middle class is fighting for survival. Blacks working in the financial, health care, retail and manufacturing sectors have lost jobs due to the financial crisis. These losses have reversed many of the financial gains that have been made by the black middle class. Money that was planned for retirement is now being used to keep the lights on. Money put aside for college is now being used to pay for groceries. Jobs these days are few and far between. It’s hard going from a project management position to bagging groceries as a full time job. But with an unemployment rate for black men of 15.7% what can one expect. The “Blue Collar” black middle class has a situation that looks even worse than their “White Collar” brethren. Their manufacturing jobs are going away without any realistic expectation of returning. What does a person do when they have been working in textiles and automobiles for 40 years? You are looking at people that will have to learn to cross train into another field. That means workers as old as 60 are attempting their 2nd act in life.
This is not Obama’s fault that we are in this recession/depression. I merely mentioned his name because of the irony in our current situation. American blacks have the highest unemployment rates and a black man is the president of the United States. Many blacks had this fairy tale notion that Obama would cure all ills. They thought he would stop gang violence, teen pregnancy, and have an all black cabinet (if you don’t believe me listen to black talk radio sometime). Some are even complaining that Obama doesn’t have a black agenda (when you find out what a black agenda looks like let me know). This is a case where expectations do not match the realities of the day. My concern about this is what happens when America finally “rights the ship.” Blacks will be behind in how much money they have via stocks, and savings. How many kids will have to forgo college because their parents couldn’t afford for them to go? How many workers will have to work past retirement in order to keep their house lights on? I must reiterate that this is not about who has the biggest grievance. But with one race having the highest unemployment rate, this one-sidedness must be discussed. Unemployment has been hard for many Americans but for others it has been the kiss of death. Is there a possibility that we looking at a smaller black middle class in the future? If that is the case, then the working poor will definitely increase in ranks.
For some blacks these events will be seen as a wakeup call. Expect to see more minority businesses being formed. Some will be very small (i.e. no more than 5 employees) but they will be formed by folks who want to take destiny into their own hands. It is always nice to call your own shots but most people will still need to work in the private/public sector. They say that there is always a silver lining in every cloud. Well the current economy is mostly cloudy with a 100% chance of rain. And Until the economy changes, the black middle class will have to weather the storm the best they can. Or there might not be much left after the crisis is over.
What do you think?