Every year at this time, our nation is reminded of the progress our country has made in race relations as well as the work which remains to be done. Here are three different approaches to concrete actions which can be taken to help black Americans improve their lot.
Not too long ago I quoted the black scholar, John McWhorter, as follows “Today’s struggle should focus on three priorities. First, the war on drugs, a policy that unnecessarily tears apart black families and neighborhoods. Second, community colleges and vocational education, which are invaluable for helping black Americans get ahead. And third, the AIDS and obesity epidemics, which are ravaging black communities.”
An extensive report by the Hamilton Project (associated with the Brookings Institute), “Policies to Address Poverty in America,” focuses on four discrete areas where progress can be achieved:
Promoting Early Childhood Development
Supporting Disadvantaged Youth
Improving the Safety Net and Work Support
Finally, the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives has recently released a new plan, “Expanding Opportunity in America,” proposing to redesign the American welfare system to help more people move off the bottom rung. The idea is to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate means-tested programs such as SNAP, TANF, childcare and housing assistance programs, into a new holistic Opportunity Grant Program. Here’s how it would work:
Each participating state will approve a list of certified providers who are held accountable for achieving results such as moving people to work, out of poverty and off of assistance.
Needy individuals will select a provider who will conduct a comprehensive assessment of that person’s needs, abilities and circumstances.
The provider and the recipient will develop a customized plan and contract both for immediate financial needs and also for long term goals towards self-sufficiency.
Successful completion of a contract will include able-bodied individuals obtaining a job and earning enough to live above the poverty line.
Here are three very distinct sources addressing the issue of black poverty in America. All three approaches are looking for practical solutions to a very difficult problem and they have a lot in common. This suggests that it should be possible for national leaders to come together and take effective action!
In Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal John McWhorter, an African-American professor at Columbia University, describes “A Better Way to Honor Dr. King’s Dream”. Mr. McWhorter writes that a new conversation about race, “one in which whites submit to a lesson from blacks about so-called institutional racism” is not what America needs. “Today’s struggle should focus on three priorities. First, the war on drugs, a policy that unnecessarily tears apart black families and neighborhoods. Second, community colleges and vocational education, which are invaluable in helping black Americans get ahead. And third, the AIDS and obesity epidemics, which are ravaging black communities.”
Such sentiments represent a huge dose of common sense. The African-American community needs help and cooperation from the wider society to address fundamental issues like juvenile delinquency, poor educational outcomes and unhealthy environments. But these things, as much as they’re needed, are not enough by themselves for further progress towards racial equality.
The route out of poverty for all low income people, including blacks, is to raise themselves up by their bootstraps through educational attainment and hard work. Society can and should make sure that the appropriate institutions, such as community colleges, are readily available to provide training for jobs which are out there in the private sector.
But most of all we need a vibrant economy to give lower income Americans more opportunities to work their way up the economic ladder. We have not yet recovered in a satisfactory manner from the Great Recession which ended in June 2009. This makes it all the more important for our national leaders to focus on the pro-growth policies which will get our economy humming again.