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Columnist MK Stallings Makes His Debut At West End Word

Writer, educator pens new online column

MK Stallings photo by Daryl Perkins (click for larger version)
October 09, 2012
MK Stallings is the newest addition to the West End Word family. He debuted his first online column Friday, Oct. 12 (see below).

Stallings is a writer, poet, educator and St. Louis native residing in the West End neighborhood. He is an assistant director of community education and events at the Missouri History Museum, founder of Urban Artist Alliance for Child Development, and adjunct instructor at several area colleges.

Stallings is currently attending Saint Louis University working toward a Ph.D. in American Studies.

Stallings said he prefers full plates as opposed to portion-controlled amounts of activity, which is why he also co-hosts Literature for the Halibut on KDHX, 88.1.

In his leisure time, he spins records for one of the longest running weekly poetry events in St. Louis on Friday nights at Legacy Books and Cafe, 5249 Delmar Blvd. at Union.

Follow Stallings on Twitter to keep up with his micro-musings: @afroscribe.

Obama And The Unemployment Rate

by MK Stallings

Didn't President Obama say that "a rising tide lifts all boats?" I ask because I visited my favorite website of the last four years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and noticed that the black unemployment rate was still nearly twice that of whites.

Until recently, President Obama was criticized by Republicans for the unemployment rate holding at 8 percent or higher for most of his term. Yet, few have talked about why unemployment was above 8 percent. One likely answer is black jobless numbers, which is much higher than the national average. Given how untrue this "rising tide" notion has been for African Americans concerning economic disparities, I was beginning to doubt that he could have ever said that publicly. So I Googled it.

Besides visiting a website revealing that then Senator John F. Kennedy, in a September 1960 speech, used that exact line, I found one site that documented President Obama uttering something like that in 2009. According to the BlackAgendaReport.com , the President responded to a question at a White House press conference about black unemployment by saying a strong economy "will lift all boats." The question came from a BET reporter named Andre Showell.

The President didn't stop there with his answer. He mentioned the importance of college affordability, job training, and tax cuts for working families as parts of an overall strategy for supporting black families along with others. Still, he said "lift all boats" to real people with real recording devices of some kind.

Whenever I try to convince people of the persistence of social inequality, I always go to the BLS. My spiel goes like this: the national unemployment rate is 7.8 for September 2012 but for whites it is 7 percent, which is less than that of blacks who are sitting at 13.4 percent. This is not a good look for the President, particularly if the rate is contrasted between races. However, if we recall his hypothesis that a strong economy lifts all boats, and we contrast the current black unemployment rate with that of an earlier period, say, September 2011, which was 15.9 percent, then that would be progress.

Although that's technically true, it's a terrible reminder of how, structurally, the U.S. is not post-racial. What's worse is that the President seems to reject the need to take any action that could foster social equality. It's as though he's good with this idea that the market would fix structural inequality. It's that kind of position that fuels the poverty tour bus that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West take from city to city.

Although the last four years of black unemployment has been bad, it's not like this all happened on President Obama's watch. There is a reason why social scientists research institutional forms of discrimination using longitudinal statistical models. I'll share the findings of a couple.

A 2003 study by Lincoln Quillian, professor of sociology at Northwestern University in New York, found that "black male joblessness in low-income neighborhoods in 1990 reached crisis levels." By crisis, he means near-depression era unemployment levels but for black men in the recent past.

Quillian examined data available between 1950 and 1990 from 49 metropolitan areas, which included St. Louis. Even if employment wasn't an issue, Thomas Shapiro notes in his 2004 book, "The Hidden Cost of Being African American," that "(t)he net worth of typical white families is $81,000 compared to $8,000 for black families." It goes without saying that Shapiro's basic point is that there is a "racial wealth gap," and that was prior to the ravages of the 2008 recession.

Because my research skills are "eh" at best, I couldn't find stats that showed the unemployment rate by race in Missouri. I did find the state unemployment rate for July 2012, which is 7.2 percent. For St. Louis, it's 10.6 percent. Again, this is not a good look.

Am I suggesting that Mr. Romney would create so much opportunity that black unemployment and wealth would be equal to whites? No. Didn't I share what Quillian found with rising black joblessness since the 1950s and Shapiro's point on the racial wealth gap? Exactly. I'm simply dubious about Mr. Romney's ability to address persistent, decades-long problems such as black joblessness and, frankly, his willingness to call on a BET reporter.

On the bright-side for Obama supporters, the President no longer has to be criticized for the national unemployment rate being above 8 percent. From a cold, political perspective, he could have claimed that statistical milestone a year ago. Back in September 2011, white unemployment was at 7.9 percent. He could have made that announcement at a press conference, extended his arm, dropped the mic and swaggered off stage. But he's too polite to do that.

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