Time to Ask Yourself Are You Better Off Now Than Four Years Ago?

Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Dr. Julianne Malveaux

by Dr. Julianne Malveaux

The man who currently occupies the Oval Office (I call him 45, but y ’all know his name, and we don’t call it because we do not believe in feeding bloated egos), promised to “Make America Great Again”. He said that he would create jobs, generate economic growth, and create a new and better health care environment than the one we got from the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he has found himself stuck in the muddy quicksand of wanting to repeal, but not replace, the legislation that provided health insurance for more than 20 million people.

When he was a candidate, 45 claimed that unemployment data was false and manipulated. As President, he has touted the unemployment rate improvement as evidence that he is doing a good job. But the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the employment situation is steady, but not especially good. While the unemployment rate is lower, by 0.4 percent, than it was when 45 took office, little else has changed. The Black unemployment rate, at 7.1 percent, is, as always, nearly double the white rate (3.8 percent), and the number of people who have been unemployed for more than half a year has not changed much. The labor force participation rate (the people who are working or looking for work) is just below 63 percent, as it has been most of the year. The employment-population ratio, or the percentage of people holding jobs, is also steady, at 60.1 percent.

The Bureau of labor Statistics report repetitively describes indicators as “changed little”, which means that few are better off than they were when 45 took office.

The low unemployment rate is deceptive. In a vibrant economy, more people would be entering the labor force, with the understanding that if hard times are over, good jobs are now available. Although some new college graduates have entered a vibrant market with high demand for their services, many others have not seen their prospects improve. Indeed, African American college graduates face unemployment rates that are far higher than their white counterparts. According to the Economic Policy Institute (in full disclosure, I am a member of that Board), young black college graduates have an unemployment rate of 8.0 percent. College graduates remain worse off than their counterparts who graduated in 2000 and 2007, the year before the Great Recession (http://www.epi.org/publication/the-class-of-2017/).

Low labor force participation rates, then, tell a story. It is challenging to look for work when you have limited resources. Some recent graduates, and others, will not fully participate in the labor market because they don’t have the wherewithal. Others will work, but have no choice but to accept underemployment – with the marketing major now working in retail or in a fast-food restaurant because that is the only job she can get. And the number of people who work “part time for economic reasons”, or “involuntarily part time”, at 5.3 million, is again, “little changed”. How many young people who did the right thing, checked off all the boxes, took the STEM classes, and graduated with thousands of dollars’ worth of debt because they invested in themselves, now find themselves underemployed?

So Bobby Womack had this song, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”. I think about it when I recall some of my commentary on the Obama Presidency, especially in my book, “Are We Better Off: Race, Obama and Public Policy”. No, the majority of Black folk were not materially better off in the Obama years. But if we think we were hurting then, wait until the Trump years evolve (sing along). None of the promises that 45 offered to “help” the people have resulted in positive change. If you think Obamacare hurt, think about what Trumpcare will do! If you think the economic situation was challenging for working people under President Obama, imagine the challenges under 45 leadership. 45 has been insistent and persistent about rolling back many of the important innovations that took place under President Obama’s leadership. He is rabid about rescinding the Obama legacy, and too many have allowed their own racial bias to support his efforts.

Still, the new unemployment rate data tell us as much as we need to know. Workers are not better off under 45. Wages remain lower than they should be, and job expansion is somewhat tepid. Labor force participation and the employment population ratio are lower than they should be. There are too many people who are out of work, or underemployed and stuck in unsatisfactory work.

45’s Presidency has not only eroded our nation’s standing in the world, but it has also eroded the economic well being of millions in our own country, as the unemployment rate data attest. 45’s buffer is the blind loyalty of those who prioritize partisan politics over national well being, and racial hegemony over common decency. And maybe, just maybe if there were economic returns to this idiocy, I might understand. But there are no returns, nothing but jingoistic chaos.

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