My last post, “Racism and Black Progress,” pointed out that, despite all of the racial tension in our society, especially bad at the present time, blacks have made much social and economic progress over the past half century. All Americans of good will want this progress to continue.
I live in Omaha NE and am personally involved in a very promising public initiative to improve educational outcomes in inner city schools. It is called the Learning Community and is an Omaha metro-wide effort to close the academic achievement gap between children from low-income families and those from the middle class. The above chart shows clearly what the problem is. Already in third grade FRL (free and reduced priced lunch) kids are behind on the NeSA (Nebraska State Assessment) reading test. The gap persists into middle school and then gets much worse in high school. A recent article in the Omaha World Herald reports that while black students make up 25% of Omaha Public Schools enrollment, they are responsible for 55% of disciplinary incidents. Obviously, disruptive students are not learning what they need to know to succeed in school and in life.
A promising solution to this very difficult problem of improving educational outcomes for inner city students is early childhood education to prepare these kids to succeed in Kindergarten and then stay in school until graduation. This is in fact the approach being taken by Omaha’s Learning Community. But it is clearly a long range program which will take many years to show success. Conclusion. A solid basic education is essential for success in today’s highly complex society. Blacks will never reach full social and economic equality with whites until they achieve better educational outcomes. Early childhood education has much promise in closing the academic achievement gap but will take many years to show significant progress.
“Your (last post) is one of the most active and positive that I have read of yours. You do put your time to where your values are. Those of us who see you as too economically focused and ourselves as more humanely concerned need to act as well. Thanks for your focus and attention.”
from a reader of my blog
I am a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. The primary reason I write this blog is because I am so concerned about the fiscal recklessness of our national leaders. Our national debt is much too large and still growing too fast. We need to either cut spending or raise taxes (or do both).
But I am also a social progressive. I voted in favor of Nebraska raising its minimum wage last fall. I support gay marriage as a civil right. I support having Nebraska expand Medicaid in order to cover more low-income people (where Medicaid needs to be fixed is at the federal level). There is in fact a very close connection between having a sound economy and social progress. As the above chart shows, the U.S. ranks very high in both GDP per person and social progress. All of the countries which are most socially progressive also have sound economies. This is not a coincidence.
My last post talks about what society can do to help blacks improve their socio-economic status. This includes improving educational opportunity in the inner city. But improved educational opportunity needs to be closely directed toward improved economic opportunity. This means, for example, having good jobs available for new high school and community college graduates. But this, in turn, means having strong economic growth with intelligent tax and regulatory policies to encourage entrepreneurship and business expansion.
In short, a sound economy is essential for social progress.
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!