Black America Feeling Heat over Budget

Black America Feeling Heat over Budget

As the August 2 debt-ceiling deadline looms and our nation’s leaders continue to battle over possible solutions, media outlets are issuing dire warnings about what the impact could be on African Americans. A few are even assigning blame.

The New York Times, for example, hosted a discussion this week about how federal budget cuts will impact the black middle class given that 20 percent of black workers are reportedly employed by the government. Seven writers discussed the issue. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

“This crisis has been at the level of a full economic depression within black communities. …The combination of blocked roads to social mobility, continuing economic crisis, the near unanimous belief among blacks that racism remains a major problem in the United States, and the consequent widespread and growing despair about the prospects for racial equality provide the grounds, if not the inevitability, for an ever more volatile and conflicted racial landscape,” said Michael C. Dawson, director of the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago.

“The public sector is the leading employer of black men and the second-largest employer of black women.  … In recent decades, government jobs have been the gateway to the middle class for blacks, the same way that municipal jobs helped the Irish, Italians and other immigrant groups move up to the middle class in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, blacks got on the train as it was coming to the end of the line,” said Walter Russell Mead, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College.

“This is only part of the story. Not only are middle-class blacks more likely to be public sector employees, but they are also disproportionate consumers of public sector goods,” said Mary Patillo, Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University. Black children, for example, are more likely than white children to attend public schools. When teachers are laid off, these children are “disproportionately hurt,” she said.

African Americans’ “growing presence in government has actually moderated their policy views, and they are not as liberal as they were during the 1970s and early 1980s,” said Katherine Tate, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. “Middle-class blacks, even government workers, are likely to support some downsizing to balance the federal budget. … Having blacks involved, as mayors or state legislative leaders within their parties, makes the politics of these unpleasant decisions more palatable for blacks,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Department of Justice is preparing to file suit against Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, for predatory lending that targeted African American borrowers during the housing bubble and steered them into expensive subprime loans, The Huffington Post reports.

This lawsuit follows a similar one filed against the company by the Federal Reserve last week. That suit alleged that “more than 10,000 borrowers were inappropriately steered into subprime mortgage loans or had their loan documents falsified by bank personnel.” Wells Fargo agreed to settle for $85 million, but did not admit wrongdoing, the article said.

The mortgage crisis was really a case of altruism gone awry, according to Scott Walter at Philanthropy Daily. He advanced a book by Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter Gretchen Morgenson and housing finance specialist Joshua Rosner called Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption led to Economic Armageddon that blames the housing meltdown and the Great Recession on public-private partnerships. Walter said a “critical turning point” was when, in 1999, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo “demanded ‘new and aggressive affordable housing goals’ for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” He describes the “structural racism” Cuomo and others were trying to address through this action as a “fairy tale.”

In a review of the book at Forbes, however, John Tamny disputed this notion, saying the “hard right” will love the book because it affirms their belief, “despite basic evidence, ” that Democrats advancement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is to blame and the “hard left” will “be cheered by Reckless” because of their view that “Wall Street, deregulation and greed drove the housing boom.”

“Both sides will finish the book bursting with facts and quotes that will merely confirm views already held deeply. As for those still searching for answers to explain what just happened, they still won’t know,” said Tamny.

In a post about the historic black/white wealth gap at The American Prospect,  Adam Serwer grapples with the denial of structural racism in the budget debate.

“”It takes an incredible psychological commitment to one’s own victimhood for conservative elites to look at numbers like these and then tell people that, while the decline in your economic circumstances is the result of some external, malignant racist force while the much larger destruction of minority middle class wealth over the past few years is due simply to those people being ‘losers,'” said Serwer.

And this morning at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates linked to an MSNBC clip in which Melissa Harris-Perry argues that government social engineering did, in fact, lead to the wealth gap between whites and blacks, but in exactly the opposite way that big government critics argue.

Regardless of the cause of the financial crisis, The Grio reports that elderly black woman will likely “bear the brunt of the budget fight.” Citing a study by the National Women’s Law Center, it said “the median annual Social Security benefit for a 65-year-old single African American woman is $10,680” and a proposed bill “would slash Social Security benefits to seniors by 0.3 percent every year they collect a check.” For elderly women who live in expensive urban areas, these cuts could push them into poverty.

Finally, Time reports that “nearly a dozen religious leaders were arrested inside the Capitol on Thursday while praying and protesting a budget that would balance itself on the backs of the poor” and prayer vigils continue outside the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

What do you think? Will Republicans and Democrats resolve their differences by Tuesday? If they don’t, how do you think a default will affect you? What is the role of faith in confronting a crisis like this?

The Debt Ceiling As Social Justice

The Debt Ceiling As Social Justice

Last night, President Obama concluded his Debt-ceiling speech by reminding the American people that “America … has always been a grand experiment in compromise.”

“As a democracy made up of every race and religion, where every belief and point of view is welcomed, we have put to the test time and again the proposition at the heart of our founding: that out of many, we are one,” he said.

But last week, in a phone conference with reporters, a group of Christian leaders who had met with the president earlier about the budget debate seemed to frame the issue as a matter of social justice for the poor, whom they suggested were being neglected in favor of the rich and middle class.

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, said politicians in Washington have “twisted Matthew 25 to say, ‘Whatever you do for the forgotten middle class you do unto me.'” He said the group reminded the president that “we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network, affirmed Ramirez’s statement that Matthew 25 is not about the middle class.

“I reminded [President Obama] and all of us that the moral choices about the budget must be made in the context of over 2,000 verses of scripture on God’s concern for the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the fatherless, that they be held harmless in the actions of government,” said Skinner.

“Washington is talking about almost everything except how these decisions affect the poor and vulnerable. The silence has been pretty deafening,” said John Carr, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, struck a more moderate note, saying they were pleased that the president “acknowledged that we face a fiscal crisis.”

“We need to get our fiscal house in order is one of the messages that we also delivered. We are not among those who want to kick the can down the road. We want our nation’s leaders to come together to fix the financial and fiscal problems which we face,” said Carey.

“The president indicated his commitment to do that, and, most importantly, to do that in a way which does not solve our problems on the backs of the poor,” he said.

Carey said the president “acknowledged the good will of the American people and of leaders in congress” in wanting to help those who are in need.

“Part of the challenge we discussed with the president is how we help the American people and our leaders to understand the human impact. …This is an issue of stewardship and we need to come together,”  Carey said the group told the president.

“With families in particular, we are seeing the widening gap of poverty, including now many professional people,” explained Stephen J. Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America.

“In our communities, we are seeing teachers that are on food stamps, many of them ex-teachers. We’re seeing lawyers that are on food stamps. We’ re seeing young college graduates that cannot get jobs that are on food stamps, and poverty is taking a new face. The new face of poverty is being seen by someone in almost every family that we are speaking to on Sundays and meeting in our communities,” said Thurston.

UrbanFaith asked if the signatories risk alienating middle class voters by appearing to pit their concerns against those of the poor.

John Carr answered first, saying he may have contributed to this perception.

“I don’t think we’re pitting them against each other. What we’re asking is that the shared bipartisan focus on how this affects the middle class needs to also include, and, in fact, take a particular focus on the poor,” said Carr.

Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, said the 2,000 verses in the Bible about the poor, poverty, widows, and orphans don’t mean that God doesn’t care about other people.

“It’s more that we don’t pay attention. We pay more attention to people that seem more important. Politics clearly pays more attention to the wealthy who have more influence than their one vote by far … and both parties want to lure the middle class,” said Wallis.

“The poor don’t vote very much and they don’t make donations, and so Washington D.C. just doesn’t pay attention to poor people,” he said, adding that their job as Christian leaders is to put those names and faces before the American people.

“Bishop Thurston reminded us of the new poor,” said Skinner. “He reminded us of middle class people who never expected to lose their jobs or to have their jobs go overseas. As a middle class person, I’d like to know that I’m in a country that if I get in that kind of straight, if I need food stamps, or if I need Medicaid or Medicare that it’s there.”

“Rather than seeing it as pitting middle class people against the poor, our conversation with the president was about the new poor and about the need to have a country defined by the way it treats all people who happen to find themselves in poverty.”

A study published today by the Pew Research Center indicates that median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic ones.

“These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009,” Pew’s report said.

What about you? Has this recession impacted you and/or your loved ones to a greater degree than previous ones? Are members of your family that never expected to receive government assistance receiving it now? How do we balance economic stewardship with God’s heart for the poor and vulnerable?