The 15 percent solution

African-Americans have not been able to share in the good news of the decline in unemployment as the latest figures show 15.6 percent are out of work. As has reported, an additional 1 million blacks have left the workforce, which means they are not counted in the official unemployment figures.
The Obama job summit failed to address the high unemployment in African-American communities, but the tools are available for local communities to make an impact.
In Philadelphia, the mayor has created an office led by Michael Bell, which specifically targets matching minority businesses with stimulus contracts. That is a full-time approach which goes beyond the one-time seminars and workshops which have been sponsored by some legisatures and state governments.
The barriers to the job-creating potential of growing black business go well beyond just access to information. There is a need to monitor the process at every step, even after an actual award, just to make sure the vendor is paid.
If your local jurisdiction has not created such a mechanism, the website does give some tools to follow up on the stimulus program. Two-third of the stimulus contracts have yet to be allocated. Many school districts and local governments still do not have web sites which describe how they are using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
As an African-American community nationallly, we should take steps to insure that the contracting agencies and governments find ways to award at least 15 percent of the remaining awards to black-owned businesses.
Simply put, the goal of the stimulus program is to create jobs and there is 15 percent unemployment in the black community.
Any government with a sizable black population which does not pay attention to that rule of thumb is not serious about the intent of the legislation.
It takes some digging for local entrepreneurs, churches, civil rights organizations and scholars to follow up. In Walls Come Tumbling Down: State of Black Business, sixth edition, we have a roster of the relevant contracting opportunities which would be common in most jurisdictions.
There is still the opportunity to channel as much as $50 billion into job-creating enterprises in the communities which need it most.
That’s a sum that folks like Whitney Young could not have imagined when they sought a domestic Marshall Plan in the wake of the riots of the 1960s.
Competition is fierce, most localities want to simply deal with their traditional vendors and the information can be hard to find.
But in addition to the kind of empowerment we can generate through wise use of our own dollars, the ARRA dollars can offer the opportunity to turn around some of the negative economic trends.
Make it simple — 15 percent of any stimulus funding should go towards addressing the black unemployment crisis.


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