In America’s jobs crisis, race matters

The comedian Stephen Colbert has a regular bit where he pretends to be so incredibly fair and unbiased that he no longer sees race.  White guy?  Black guy?  Who knows?

In the era of the Barack Obama presidency, a similar kind of silliness often prevails in Albany and Washington.

Policy-makers have more or less doggedly refused to confront the fact that people of color experience life in America very differently.

The contrast is clear once again in today’s jobs report.

Yes, America faces an employment malaise.  Yes, the economy is stuck in neutral.  But the full-blown crisis really only affects pockets of our national community.

The unemployment rate for white men has dropped to just 7.9%.  Not exactly robust, but hardly a depression-era number either — and it suggests that for one part of the nation’s workforce things are far better than headlines suggest.

But the unemployment rate for black men is an astonishing 16%.   Black teens age 16-19, meanwhile, face unemployment rates close to 38%.

That’s particularly devastating because so many African Americans leave high school early and don’t attend college, meaning a lot of teens of color really need to be finding their way into the work force.

I’m sure that policy-makers across the political spectrum could come up with community-specific plans and strategies to address this crisis.

But the first step is to acknowledge and confront it honestly.  If Mr. Obama and Congress really want to help the most economically crippled group of our neighbors, they have to talk about race.

What can be done to keep more blacks in school?  What kinds of trade skill training could be provided for young blacks who can’t or won’t go to college?

How can we begin to rebuild particular neighborhoods and cities plagued with particularly high African American unemployment?

In the past, politicians on both sides of the aisle have suggested that a rising tide would lift all boats, and that general prosperity would trickle down to all segments and ethnic groups in the community.

But these latest numbers re-enforce the fact that long after the Great Recession ends for most of us, millions of black workers will be looking for opportunities and answers.

It’s remarkable, really, that we haven’t already seen more frustration and anger in the African American community.  The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements appear to be made up mostly of whites.

I wonder, if the recovery continues to favor certain pockets of our society, if that will change.

As always, your comments welcome.

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46 Comments on “In America’s jobs crisis, race matters”

  1. Peter Hahn says:

    One problem is that our conservative friends would insist that it would be unconstitutional for the government to do anything about it. and they don’t think the government should do anything about anything anyway. (and they can veto anything in congress) It is their (African Americans) personal responsibility to become like Herman Cain etc.

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  2. Jim Bullard says:

    “politicians on both sides of the aisle have suggested that a rising tide would lift all boats”

    The problem with that is that if you don’t own a boat, if you are treading water, a rising tide just means that you have farther to swim in order to reach the shore.

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  3. Kinda like the way people cling to the fantasy that socioeconomic class doesn’t matter either. It shouldn’t, but it does.

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  4. Two Cents says:

    I was born in 1960. Throughout my entire school years, including college years there were programs for minorities to assist them . Later in the work years minorities were give first ups, leg ups and affirmative action type programs.
    I qualified or none of this because though i was in fact what i believe am a member of the forgotten minority:
    a poor, not middle class white male , who was never able to qualify for the programs that were offered to blacks of the same ecconomic, educational situations.

    In the attempt to ofset an injustice, the people in charge created another.

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  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Two cents – you still had it easier than they did.

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  6. Pete Klein says:

    The truth might be that the powers to be like it that way and that attitude extends to anyone (white, black, brown, red).

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  7. Mervel says:

    It is a complex problem.

    For example there will NEVER be jobs for high school drop outs who live in blighted areas, it is hard enough for people with college degrees to get jobs.

    I think you have to start with why public schools have so horribly served minorities in this country.

    We have spoken often on this board about the future jobs and international competition. It won’t matter what “programs” you set up in minority communities, if the people in those communities are uneducated and lacking in the most basic skills. We have to face reality, there is no magic plan here you have to start with a high school degree, that would get you in competition for a minimum wage job, then you have to have training in skills that don’t have to be college skills, for example truck drivers are in huge demand right now, or LPN’s or CNA’s or HVAC. It all goes back to education and work ethic to grab that education. Nothing wrong with college either, but in this job market I would much rather be a truck driver or a nurse than have a history degree.

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  8. Two Cents says:

    Probably so, but it’s all the world of difference to my life.
    I paid the debt for the wrongs of generations before.
    My life was compromised to level the playing feild to ease societies guilty conscious.
    My life was made less so theirs could be made more.
    It was more than the lack of opportunities, it was downright rejection for the sake of another.
    I am the Minority now, was made so all through my lifetime by a broken system trying to fix itself.
    Guess what– it’s still broke.
    Minority has nothing to do with color, it’s socioeconomic. That’s what the 99% vs the 1% is about.
    Now Obama wants to help students and their college debts??
    I wish i had a college debt, in’76 couldn’t even gget one of those unless i was black or brown.
    Sorry but that’s the way i saw it, see it, and for me that’s how it is.

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  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Wow, Two Cents. You may have it pretty hard, I have no idea, but most of us struggle in one way or another. Blaming someone else who didn’t have it easy isn’t very productive.

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  10. brian mann says:

    Hi folks,

    There are certainly cases where whites have been passed over in controversial ways because of equal opportunity efforts in the US.

    But an overwhelming body of research indicates that racial bias continues to place blacks at a serious disadvantage when compared to whites.

    “Experimental audit studies focusing on hiring decisions have consistently found strong evidence of racial discrimination,” concluded once Princeton study, “with estimates of white preference ranging from 50% to 240%.”


    Meanwhile, the USDA just settled a massive $1.25 billion case for discriminating against black farmers in agriculture aid programs.

    This unfair treatment, which put black-owned farms at significant disadvantage, occurred not in the 1950s or 60s, but in the 1980s and 1990s.


    Obviously, black communities face many other challenges, other than hiring discrimination — broken families, lack of educational attainment, etc.

    But I think the “white male victim” narrative — even that put forward by low income whites — is more complicated than Two Cents suggests.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  11. Mervel says:

    Well two cents, helping those kids with the overpriced college educations pay their loans won’t help the minorities who don’t even have high school diploma’s either. I mean in that respect you have more in common with them than you do the college set.

    I used to have some of these same feelings, I think they are wrong though, not morally just factually wrong. We didn’t have a harder time as white males from lower income backgrounds because of help given to a small percentage of minorities. Poor people always basically have it tougher.

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  12. Gary says:

    “But the first step is to acknowledge and confront it honestly”. Brian, you have tried to simlify a problem that needs to be looked at in MUCH greater detail. You have made the assumption that the numbers are a result of race. The fact of the matter is the number very well may be due to where Blacks live and not who they are. Job opportunities in metro areas in general will not require any “trade skills” as you suggest. I don’t believe flipping burgers is considered a trade skill! There are other factors as well but I think this one example should get my point across.
    Two Cents, I hear what your saying. The college I attended in the 60’s many blacks did attend cllasses and were passed for fear of discrimination.

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  13. Peter Hahn says:

    two cents and Gary – it may be true that if you are African American and do well in college and get into some high-powered profession, being African American might open a few doors (maybe not as much as being related to someone though). But it is also true that for most African Americans there are still many more doors closed than open. (although it is much better than it used to be)

    It is also true that it is difficult to get to college and do well if your parents, grandparents and great grand parents were systematically denied any education. Many of the important skills needed to do well at school are taught in the home.

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  14. Gary says:

    Peter, please don’t put words in my mouth! As a student I was upset by what I saw but I was more upset by the fact that their diploma was lie and how this lie would effect the lives of people. This statement is incorrect, “It is also true that it is difficult to get to college and do well if your parents, grandparents and great grand parents were systematically denied any education.”

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  15. Pete Klein says:

    When you look at education, you need to see it is a chair with three legs. Take one of the legs out and both chair and person fall down and hurt theirself.
    The three legs are in order of importance: the student, the parents and the teacher.
    The big focus now is on the teacher and the schools but neither can fix or replace the ability and willingness of the student to learn. Fact is, some parents make lousy parents and the student suffers.

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  16. Peter Hahn says:

    Gary – those were my words not yours. It is possible to be a good parent but not know how to get your kids to do well in the modern school system. This is also true of recent immigrants who were small farmers. The skills they have to impart to their children don’t help much in terms of doing well in the modern educational system. Some kids make it anyway, but the degree of difficulty is greater. Usually those kids (say the studies) are the ones who connect to mentors (like that great teacher). But this is fairly rare.

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  17. Mervel says:

    Regardless something is going on. When you have one racial group of people sitting with 16% unemployment and another sitting with 8%.

    There is no short term fix though. I think one idea that is wrong is the idea that we need to invest in blighted areas, talk to people who live in blighted areas, they don’t want a better blighted area, they want to LEAVE and live in a nice home in a nice safe place with good schools, just like everyone else. It is the reason that African Americans and whites for that matter who grow up in really poor areas and succeed economically; don’t continue to live there. We need to invest in people not “communities”.

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  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    If they could afford to leave they would. But if you’re already poor (which you probably are if you live in a blighted area) you likely don’t have the resources to find a job elsewhere; you probably don’t have the money to move your possessions, first and last month rent plus security deposit and the cash available to buy food and clothing and all the other incidental expenses that you would need to live until you could collect your first paycheck in your new community.

    We are a great and powerful, and (in spite of the current economic downturn) a rich nation. There is no reason blighted areas should exist in this country. It is an indictment of the current financial system that a country as rich as ours can have areas of rot and decay in the hearts of our greatest cities as well as in our rural areas.

    If you believe that our economic system is the best possible system then why is it so prone to total collapse every decade or so? A good economic system would be sustainable, self-balancing, self-policing, and would provide opportunity to everyone. We may have come far but we have a long way to go.

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  19. Mervel says:

    I agree. My point was just that I think from an investment point of view we look toward investing in the individual families allowing them to get the resources to follow their dreams to do what they want to do, not what we think they should do. I have just seen so many very very expensive attempts at re-building blighted areas based on what other people think the area needs; that mainly have benefited the subcontractors who were “helping” than the actual people who live in these areas.

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  20. Two Cents says:

    Understand this first and foremost– i blame the system, and only the system.
    Adjusting the bias Knob is not the way to fix it.
    The system tweaks all of our inherent abilities to attemp to marginalize numbers, percents and factoids.
    Brian Mann-you can provide all the links you want, especially from Princeton- one of the colleges i was accepted to–if i had the money. Graduated High School 4.o and second in my class. It was purely money and race quotas for me. I can remember the day i turned sour, and remain so to this day.

    Mentors are found in college, in my opinion, and a truck driver may be needed more than a History proffessor, but the connections made in college are key life factors.
    We should all be allowed to grow or fail intellectually, economically, to our own God or DNA given abilities, not by inheritance, or lack their of, or by political, and social tweakings.
    Keep your military and world police designs and send every child with American citizenship to college and i bet the bill will be smaller and the beniffits greater for this country as a whole.

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  21. Peter Hahn says:

    two cents – sorry to hear that things didn’t work out for you.

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  22. oa says:

    Mervel said: “in this job market I would much rather be a truck driver.”
    In the trucking industry lately, it’s not so good for the drivers…

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  23. Two Cents says:

    Thanks, i still have a thin skin for certain issues.
    I was purposely contrite, and i’m fully aware “it’s more complicated than Two Cents thinks”
    It’s even more complicated than Brian is condescending.
    The system is broke, look around for chris’s sake.
    Trying to “fix it” makes it worse.
    It’s meant to collapse so another can grow, and probably run it’s course as well.
    That’s the true way of man and Earth.
    I believe in the laws of physics, not man.

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  24. oa says:

    What’s an economic system have to do with physics?

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  25. Pete Klein says:

    Two Cents describes “The American Dream” when Two Cents says, “We should all be allowed to grow or fail intellectually, economically, to our own God or DNA given abilities.”
    But there is a big problem with that dream and a dream it is. No one, absolutely no one, is willing to play by that dream if it mean they lose and someone else wins.
    The dream is a fantasy on so many levels it should be a felony for anyone to even mention it. First of all and perhaps most tragically, it presumes everyone wants more and more of everything. And if they don’t, they are either sick or lazy. This is a great idea to sell things if you are in marketing and your goal is to sell more and more junk without regard to its usefulness and is exemplified by “Shop ’till you drop” and “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
    Let’s face it. We have been sold a lot of BS and now have to pay for it.
    One of the worst rip-offs now coming home to roost is how a college education was sold as the ticket to “moving on up.” But now the kids are finding the value of a four year degree is now worth what a high school education once was, presuming they can find a job when they graduate and find themselves in deep debt.
    The foundation of our society, the Middle Class, is being killed off. The reasons are many but two culprits stand out: the cost of housing and the cost of health care. I could add education because there was a time when a free high school education was more than enough to find and earn a decent living. There are others but these are the big three.

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  26. Two Cents says:

    I was speaking in general terms re: system -as in man made rules
    But since you asked maybe this?

    Physics: E = Mc2 . Economics: Energy = Economic Mass (population) times the speed of light squared. People without hope, aspirations, vision and ambition are people without economic mass; they are massless neutrinos. Even a tiny minority of people with ideas, creativity and innovative power can generate enormous national energy. But they need to have frictionless bureaucracy-free infrastructure to facilitate starting businesses and role models who show it can be done.

    really just ranting now, i’ll politely let this subject rest.

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  27. Two Cents says:

    oops i lied – i like this better: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction……

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  28. Mervel says:

    There are economic laws that act much like physical laws. If things go up in price people buy less everything else being equal, for example.

    So yeah if you make a fake system that gives false advantage to unqualified people due to racial or political considerations there will be a price to pay for that system.

    Giving people preferences due to race does not work. But investing in education for people who have been denied education makes some sense and is the American way. So if people who are a minority don’t get decent primary and high school educations it makes sense to fix that situation.

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  29. Mervel says:

    It is a crime that we allow school systems to exist that have 50% or higher drop out rates.

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  30. Gary says:

    “It’s remarkable, really, that we haven’t already seen more frustration and anger in the African American community.”
    The very last thing the black community wants to do is appear to be attacking Obama and his policies. Maxine Walters has done this a few times and the media slides this under the rug. Why do you think the media is making such a big deal about Herman Cain? Like the blacks, the media knows if Cain gets the nod Obama could never win with a split black vote.
    Read some of Bill Cosby’s books. Of course the NAACP wants nothing to do with his comments. As I said before you can’t take a complex problem and try to simplify it or make the mistake and say it’s because of their skin color.

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  31. Peter Hahn says:

    Mervel – where my kids went to high school, the dropout rate was about 50%. It wasn’t the schools fault. Some of those kids (poor African American – Latinas, etc) got Ivy league scholarships. Many though got jobs in organized crime.

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  32. oa says:

    No, there aren’t economic laws that are like physical laws. Economics is a man-made system. Because people made it. In fact, they made many different systems. A big part of our problems right now is applying science where science does not apply. Economics is an example. There are lots of ways to skin an economic cat and grow an economy. See: China. Or Germany.

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  33. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Peter: “Many though got jobs in organized crime.”

    Hey, that’s just Capitalism at work! Supply and Demand!

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  34. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Economics is not a hard science. If it was nobody would listen to the economists we hear on the news who say things that turn out to be completely false, again and again, but then are interviewed again the next day or next week to explain some other situation that they are obviously wrong about.

    And forget about commentary about the stock market. Every day we get some line of bull about why the market went up or down because of some rumor that circulated, or because of some situation in Nigeria (insert other factoid here if you wish) that made the news today in spite of the exact thing happening last week and the market reacted in the exact opposite direction.

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  35. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And there is a reason they call it a Bull or a Bear market.
    If it goes up there is probably some line of bull sending it up. If it is a Bear market you are going to lose half of your pension and just bear it.

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  36. Mervel says:

    No there are economic principles that operate. Sure it is not a physical science, but we have a long history of economic thought that would disagree with you OA.

    People would prefer to pay less rather than more for two identical products for example. If you have two jobs exactly the same and one pays more people will want the one that pays more. It is not a precise science I totally agree, but there are principles that operate consistently.

    From a macro economic perspective it is much more difficult, and I think there is still much to learn on that front I totally agree. But consider two economies one bases their hiring decisions on politics and racial preference and the other basis it on how good someone is at doing the job, which economy everything else being exactly equal, would do better?

    But anyway look at China and Germany, both adopted free market principles to succeed. Among the European Zone, Germany has the most open markets. Or consider China their economy only took of after the government allowed the free market to operate and people to own private property.

    Anyway that is not even about this topic.

    The education industry IS responsible for graduation rates that are that low, unless we are willing to say that blacks are just inferior in education because they are black? Because that is your choice.

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  37. Mervel says:

    This is a good article from Zakaria I agree with that deals with this.

    TIME magazine’s Rana Foroohar has a great cover story this week that highlights that social mobility in American is declining. She points out that if you were born in 1970 in the bottom one-fifth of our socioeconomic spectrum, you had only a 17% chance of making it into the upper two-fifths. Data show that its much easier to climb the socio-economic ladder in many parts of Europe. Rana points out that while nearly half of American men with fathers in the bottom fifth of the earning curve remain there, only a quarter of Danes and Swedes and only 30% of Britons do. The American dream seems to be thriving in Europe more than it is here at home.

    What happened and what can we do?

    There are a number of reasons why we find ourselves in this predicament – but the most important of them is how much we have lagged behind on education. No other factor is as closely linked to upward mobility. Education is the engine of mobility. And for all its current troubles, many countries in Europe – especially in northern Europe – have done a much better job providing high quality public education, particularly for those who are not rich or upper middle class.

    We talk a lot about the genius of Steve Jobs these days, and justifiably, because he was a genius. But he also grew up in an environment that helped. He graduated from high school in 1972, at a time when the California public school system was ranked first in the country and American public education was the envy of the world. The school he went to, in Cupertino, was high quality, with excellent programs in science and well as the liberal arts. Today, California’s public schools are a disaster, and the state spend twice as much on prisons as it does on education.

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  38. Paul says:

    Brian, is this a race issue or an education issue?

    You touch on it here. Better title:

    “In America’s jobs crisis, education matters”

    Or: “why does our race still define the level of education we attain”?

    If we don’t focus on the problem we won’t solve it.

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  39. Mervel says:

    The interesting thing is like in health care, I think we spend more on education per student than Europe does. It is about quality and about what we are doing, not about money.

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  40. oa says:

    I know it’s off topic, and pardon the hijack, but…
    Mervel said: “Among the European Zone, Germany has the most open markets.”
    Pretty broad statement there, and not altogether accurate. Germany has a very closed housing market, which is why they had no housing bubble, and the rest of the economy is heavily regulated, as well. A good story on German regs, including the approach to debt, here:

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  41. Mervel says:

    Our society in my opinion has been taken over by leeches, now they are very rationale leeches. But we have vested interests that are soaking the system in health care, in finance and in education; the government can stop this, but they are in on it. Education is about the incomes of the education industry ( including the rip off colleges and the rip off book companies, and now the largest loan sharking business in the US; Student Loans etc.), not the mention the NEA and so forth. The health care Industry is about the rip off Big phara, medical device makers, and insurance hogs, and finance is about taking advantage of US regulations that allow banking and finance to mix and to buy and sell government backed mortgages, which is still going on. The mortgage meltdown could not have happened if the government had not backed the worthless mortgages, no one would have bought them@! So we know why no one has been prosecuted for basically intentionally causing a huge fraud and depression. You would have to indite both Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street players but also Barnie Frank, Maxine Waters and those in charge of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; all of the rest, it will never happen.

    They all have one thing in common, they need the complicity of the government to enforce their deals.

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  42. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And still, the fact is that Blacks have suffered from institutionalized racism in this country, which is after all what this post started out being about.

    Yes, there are underclasses of various kinds which include people from all backgrounds but I can think of only 2 that are solidly racist in nature – blacks, and indians. Does anyone want to make the argument that some other group suffers economically from institutionalized racism?

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  43. Two Cents says:

    Did Jobs drop out of college? Gates and Woz, did, regardless the developed their brainstorms while experimenting with abstract ideas, much the same way art and music does to developing innovative ideas, and creativity.
    Art and music are being cut in our schools all over the country in exchange for more standardized tests (no child left behind).
    It been argued Art and Music exposure was lacking in minority neighborhoods. Given the disportionate number of minority professional sport stars, whom have chosen that carreer over continuing in higher education, could we state that represents the life path they have chosen instead of adding demographic data for Princeton study authors?

    China at one time was very heavy into testing and book knowlege and banned art and music. They have since done a 180, while we still head twords the same, and our Educational system is failing our student for this very fact.
    Yes Mervel, they are all leeches, which is why the “wealthy” are despised as the poster children of the “system” as i called it (simplifying it , sorry Brian)
    Teachers salaries are the focus of our Education system, Administrators earning 6 digits before retirement, and the focus here is how many white vs. non-whites are unemployed?
    We have all been sold down the river according to our wealth, and the “leeches” further rigged it to prevent any attempt for lower economic people to achieve wealth and then ascend to their level.
    The leeches infiltrate every crack of society and thwart the common man and woman from attaining a say in government and the future of this country as a whole.

    Knuck- would women count to you as a group suffering from institutionaliized racism?
    Racism has been supplanted by subject poverty.
    If you are poor, you are the minority regardless of ethnic background.
    Maybe due to the melting pot effect of this country- all races are blending- that is untill it’s time for parade season, then everyone who can, proudly displays their hyphenism.
    So the “system” has one-upped the anti. Race can no longer be dependable for labeling the “others”. Money is the true, and dependable racism.

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  44. Paul says:

    “Race can no longer be dependable for labeling the “others”. Money is the true, and dependable racism.”

    This is the point I made above and why I suggested this title for the blog:

    “”In America’s jobs crisis, education matters”

    If you are well educated there is a very good chance that you will not be poor regardless of any other label you are stuck with.

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  45. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Knuck- would women count to you as a group suffering from institutionaliized racism?”


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  46. Mervel says:

    But I think it is worth looking at these specific groups. Women are discriminated against, no doubt about it. But look at the outcomes, 16% unemployment among one racial group?

    I don’t think the answer to this question though is the same set of answers that will solve our overall economic depression right now though. Even in good times, black men don’t do well as a group when it comes to employment.

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