“Young & Jobless – A Cause for Mass Concern” – starring Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Wiz Khalifa, Rob “Biko” Baker, Kevin Powell and others.
As this piece is being written, the United States continues to spiral into economic downfall, despite reports that the recession has ended. Unemployment rates stood at 9.1 percent in August, per the U.S. Labor Department. For African-Americans, the story is far more telling. Blacks comprise a mere 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 20 percent of the nation’s unemployed. In 2009, when the unemployment rate when down, it actually rose for African-Americans, according to In These Times online magazine.
President Obama, under constant fire for the country’s high unemployment rate and faced with his lowest approval rating since the 2008 Election, has unveiled a $300 billion jobs package to help stimulate the economy and jump start the job market. Many Republicans already have plans to shoot it down, as the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) remained unchanged at 6 million in August and accounted for 42.9 percent of the unemployed. “We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let’s meet the moment,” President Obama said of his American Jobs Act, which was presented to Congress last night.
The fortitude of the masses is certainly being tested. These days, the economy and unemployment are critical matters for nearly everyone, particularly people of color. Then, there is the largely untold media story of the joblessness rates within the Hip-Hop Nation and America’s Urban Youth. In May 2011, household employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that “youth experienced the highest unemployment rates of all Americans at 26.2 percent” in August. The unemployment rate for African-American youth is even higher, at 50.4 percent percent.
In urban communities where poverty is commonly pervasive, a large population of unemployed, under-supported youth can translate into other issues, such as increases in high school drop out rates and violent and theft-related crimes. Experts say a number of factors beyond the shaky national economy have inflated jobless rates for Black teens. The fact is, those youth are less likely to live in neighborhoods close to where meaningful jobs are, and they are less likely to come into contact with people who can help them get jobs.
In Ohio, for example, unemployment among teens, ages 16-19, was 24.2 percent. For Black teens, most living in impoverished communities, the figure was 40.7 percent. The Obama Administration has offered states like Ohio some solutions. During the past two years, Ohio teens that believed they would never be able to work did so because of federal Recovery Act stimulus funding. The state received about $48 million for youth employment and related programs in 2009, and another $26 million in 2010, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. But, according to reports, stimulus funding has offered short-term and largely unsustainable band-aid job programs.
So, what now? There are lots of opinions from politicos to pundits to entertainers on what President Obama’s real mission is in the next 15 months before the election. Here are a few:
Kevin Powell, Community Activist from Brooklyn, NY
Kevin Powell, the Hip-Hop activist that currently leads the BK Nation community empowerment organization, says he’s supporting the president the respectable way – with patience and “loyal opposition.” In Brooklyn, he lost his previous bid for Congress but stays tied to the needs of the people in his district. Although Powell knows there are many issues plaguing the country right now, he believes jobs are priority #1:
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) hosted a multi-city jobs tour in August in their districts with very high unemployment numbers, including Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, and Los Angeles. Rep. Johnson spoke on behalf of the unemployment crisis for the CBC:
“The people with ‘the least of these’ still should be his #1 priority,” said Rep. Johnson during talks about Black unemployment, her support for President Obama, and what the CBC has to do to tackle the issues facing CBC constituents. Study after study, and media piece after media piece, tells us there is a crisis in the Black community on several fronts. “We must not apologize for the situation we’re in we must put it on the table,” Johnson added sternly at the CBC Summit on the Jobs Crisis.
Rob Biko Baker, Executive Director, League of Young Voters Education Fund
For youth, in particular, grassroots training and jobs programs are key. Through his advocacy work with the League of Young Voters Education Fund, Biko Baker knows firsthand that the election – at least for President Obama – hinges upon reminding young voters and the entire country that the Administration understands their plight:
“Obama has to invest in youth employment, especially summer employment, and should specifically look to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) programs of the 1970s as an example. These programs prepared new workers to be competitive in the workplace and cut the unemployment rate by nearly 1%. But without a bold vision for young people and people of color, America will continue experience high unemployment rates.”
However, Baker says there is a dismally blight downside, even as the Obama’s American Jobs Act strives to create millions of jobs.
“I have never seen as much disenchantment with the political process in my entire adult life. The crippling unemployment rate has people second-guessing all the positive decisions they’ve made in their life. I have talked with elders, recent graduates, and even my own father who have the credentials and will to work, have filled in hundreds of applications, but haven’t found a job,” Baker explains. “But we aren’t a poor country, and we definitely have the resources to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, right now we need the political will to dream big and bold. While President Obama definitely has his haters, it’s up to him to set the tone and make sure that country knows that he is taking his job as America’s top CEO seriously.”
No Jobs & No Love? – Hip-Hop’s Unique Perspectives
“Back when I was young, getting a job was murder.” – Dr. Dre (1991)
An odd thing happened.
I was privileged enough to be invited to the White House for President Obama’s first ever Twitter Townhall meeting this summer. The event marked the first time a U.S. President would spotlight social media as a powerful tool for delivering messages. Afterwards, while basking in the glow of the coveted White House visit, I received another invitation for the very next day. AllHipHop.com was one of a lucky few invited to an in-studio listening session of Jay-Z and Kanye’s album, Watch The Throne.
Immediately, I knew the one question that I really wanted and had to ask Jay, as he was present in the session. It was about President Obama.
I quickly rephrased it after remembering the informal campaigning the Hip-Hop mogul had done for Obama in 2008. “Rather, what will you be doing for the president?” I asked him. I knew it was an important question – I could see the wheels turning in the other journalists’ heads.
There was a very pregnant pause. Clearly, Jay’s mind was thinking. Then, he spoke the unexpected.
AllHipHop.com: Will you be doing anything with Obama, or what will you be doing next year?
Jay-Z: I don’t know, man.
AllHipHop.com: Come on.
At this point, it seemed like Jay’s mind was crafting a politically correct response, seemingly due to the possibility that he may not be acting in a supportive manner for Obama in 2012. I followed up.
AllHipHop.com: Any thoughts on how he’s, you know, he’s under attack a little bit?
Jay-Z: He’s the president. [The attacks are] fair. You gotta fix it; can’t fix it all in one day. Numbers don’t lie, it’s f**ked up out there. Unemployment is still high.
Like it or not, Jay-Z’s responses to the questions about the president may help shine a magnifying glass on the one of the biggest current issues for African-Americans and the Hip-Hop community – the Jobless Rate and the growing hesitancy to blindly back Obama’s reelection (We’ll get into that shortly). Hip-Hop came out heavy for the president last election, but rappers these days have different thoughts on Obama’s performance.
Rapper Wiz Khalifa
Hip-Hop has long been known for its “rage against the machine” rebellion; however, not all rappers are critical about the president’s handling of joblessness and communicating policies. Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa offered a brief, cryptic take on how he grades the first Black president:
Opinions may vary, but as Jay-Z infamously said, “Numbers don’t lie.” The critics are on the attack, and Obama has an urgent need for more support from the people who rallied for him in 2008. These are tough times for Americans, and I had walked away from my pivotal two-day experience with President Obama and Jay-Z with more questions than answers about what lies ahead for us all – both economically and culturally. What we all know is that people without jobs can’t make money. If people can’t make money, they can’t eat or live or play.
So, what does President Obama really need to help stimulate the economy and the job market?