As both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders seek to win African-American voters in South Carolina ahead of the Democratic primary, one issue demands their attention: double-digit unemployment in the African-American community in South Carolina and nationally.
As we pointed out in an article last week, South Carolina has little to brag about when it comes to closing the black-white jobs gap. It is on the list of states that have the widest gaps in the country between white unemployment and black unemployment, using data collected by the Economic Policy Institute. If you are an African American in South Carolina, you are roughly 2.7 times more likely to be without a job than you would be if you are a white person.
Metropolitan-area data contained in the National Urban League’s “State of Black America” report for 2015 tell a similar story. The unemployment rate for African Americans in Charleston and Greenville, S.C. was listed in the report as 12.4 percent, it was 15.7 percent for Greenville and 16.5 percent for Augusta.
That suggests that for young black males in particular in these areas, unemployment rates are at depression levels, much as they are in many urban areas around the country.
Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are discussing the need for a range of reforms to combat the effects of institutional racism, from criminal justice reforms to the need for new investments in education. But while unemployment may have receded in urgency on the national political scene, anyone who walks the streets of predominately black neighborhoods will find that the need for jobs remains a top concern.
That’s why one of the issues the candidates should talk more about this week is how they would put the resources of the federal government to work to close the racial jobs gap. Would the candidates support creating subsidized jobs, such as a program that was part of the 2009 Recovery Act that created 260,000 temporary jobs for youths and adults via the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program? (Republicans in Congress opposed a continuation of that program.) What about a plan modeled after a proposal by Rep. James Clyburn (D-N.C.) that would devote 10 percent of funds in certain federal programs to areas where 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years or more? A program of that scale would be of particular benefit to long-struggling African-American neighborhoods, but would also benefit a substantial number of poor white and Latino communities as well.
The bottom line is that black unemployment continues to be a crisis that does not get the attention that it deserves. Solving that problem would mean addressing a long list of issues that include education, investments in infrastructure and public services, and even trade policies that affect what jobs are available to be done in America. The person who best addresses these issues would be the person most deserving to win the African-American vote.