Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, What's Race Got To Do With It?

New report confirms: Low federal minimum wage = higher poverty in NC

The latest edition of Prosperity Watch from Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center highlights a new report from the Economic Policy Institute which confirms something that common sense long ago revealed — namely, the low and inadequate federal minimum wage is directly linked to North Carolina’s high poverty rate.

“In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 8 working families (126,000) live below the federal poverty level in the state according to the Working Poor Families Project.

Researchers adjusting the 1968 minimum wage for inflation find that a full-time minimum wage worker would have earned roughly $10 an hour or $20,600 a year in 2017 dollars. Yet a worker paid the federal minimum wage in 2017 could only earn $15,080 working full time.

This falls below the federal poverty level for a worker with one child ($16,543) and far below what it takes to make ends meet in North Carolina for the same family size ($35,710).

Not surprisingly, the data also confirm that a boost in the minimum wage would reduce poverty:

“Boosting the minimum wage to its value in 1968 would have a significant benefit to all workers and particularly workers of color.  That is because workers of color are more likely to be paid hourly wages, engaged in part-time work and working in industries whose pay is at or close to the minimum wage.  The reasons that Black and Latinx workers are more likely to find this type of employment is connected to historic barriers to opportunity, systems that have excluded certain employment from wage standards and ongoing discrimination in the labor market….

Economic Policy Institute researchers found that nearly 3.3 million African Americans and Hispanics would no longer be in poverty had the value of work today earned a minimum wage equivalent to that earned in 1968.

For North Carolina, a similar boost to the minimum wage for state workers would increase the number of Black and Latinx workers living above the poverty threshold by an estimated 328,000.

The poverty-reducing effects of raising the minimum wage would likely taper off as the minimum wage got closer to $15, simply because at those higher wage levels, fewer workers are in poverty to begin with. But, if continuing to raise the minimum wage from $10 to $15 reduced poverty by just 1 more percentage point that would mean 92,000 fewer NC workers would be in poverty.”

 

Commentary, immigration, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Op-Ed: Choose civil rights over civility

“The Greensboro Four”: Four men began a 1960 protest in a Greensboro Woolworth’s over racial segregation.

Much has been made over a Virginia restaurant owner’s decision to boot Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month.

The controversy spurred countless think pieces and ruminations on the balance between civility and disagreement. Expect similar hand-wringing over a New York woman’s Fourth of July protest at the Statue of Liberty, in which Therese Okoumou said she wanted to draw attention to the president’s shameful immigration policies.

Now a new op-ed in The News & Observer from Duke history professor William Chafe offers some historical perspective on the debate. As Chafe points out, such debates surrounded protests during the Civil Rights Movement.

From the op-ed:

When Donald Trump’s press secretary was asked to leave a restaurant because of the president’s policy of breaking up immigrant families, it was seen as a violation of “civility” — treating other citizens with politeness and respect.

But what happens when dedication to “civility” is used as a basis for suppressing protest? Is it necessary to insist on good manners in public and private before responding to demands that an unjust social policy be changed?

When four black students in Greensboro “sat in” at local lunch counters in 1960 to demand equal treatment, that was the position taken by local leaders. In the Greensboro Daily News, a liberal paper in the relatively moderate state of North Carolina, the editors declared that social protest was incompatible with “civility.”

“Somewhere,” the paper said, “a Southern community must find a way to deal with civilities as well as civil rights.” Such an answer “will not be found while the management is under the gun,” the paper contended; rather, social justice could only happen when “unimpeded by the threat of force.”

Yet the civil rights movement succeeded only because it insisted that racial justice take precedence over “civilities.” Through sit-ins, voting rights marches and mass demonstration, it disrupted the social order. Only then was the government compelled to respond — which it did with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. If “civilities” took priority over movement activism, these events would never have occurred. Justice required breaking with civility.

More relevant — then and now — than the Greensboro paper’s definition of political reality was the injunction of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, who said this in 1857:

Those who profess to favor freedom

And yet deprecate agitation

Are men who want crops

Without plowing the ground

They want rain without thunder and lightning

They want the ocean without the awful roar of it waters

Power concedes nothing without a demand

It never did, and it never will

Today, Douglass’ insight is more relevant than ever before. We are now more polarized as a nation than at any time since the Civil War. Yet just as a reliance on “civility” failed completely to address the demands of black Americans for equal rights in 1960, the same insistence on “civility” today — without ever addressing the depth of our racist assumptions about immigrant families and other minorities – is futile.

Direct demonstrations were essential to the gains achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Activist protest, such as we saw this past weekend, is just as essential today if we are to address the violation of immigrant rights and the break-up of immigrant families.

Yes, we should respect the right of any person to enjoy a meal in a public restaurant. That’s what the civil rights movement was all about.

But no, we should not use the argument of defending “civility” to deflect, denigrate or rule out of order mass protests against an immigration policy that contradicts all the values we celebrate on July 4. The only society that can be truly “civil” is one where everyone enjoys protection under the law, and where the values enunciated in our Declaration of Independence are the basis for our nation’s policies and the rhetoric of our national leaders.

Our nation has been made up of immigrants. My grandfather was the 14th child of a tailor from England. He came to America to seek a new life, and got a job as a night watchman at Harvard. His daughter, my mother, became a secretary at Harvard. I, in turn, became a student at Harvard. Three generations — and a story repeated in other immigrant families tens of thousands of times.

It is ironic that some commentators are using the need to protect “civility” in personal manners as an instrument for opposing protest against government policies. It would be far more relevant to remember Douglass’ words: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”

Commentary, News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Say what? GOP changing its tune on drug testing for public assistance

The conservative Washington Examiner reported yesterday that Republicans in Congress may be backing off of their support for requiring food assistance beneficiaries to submit to drug testing.

This is from an article entitled “Opioid epidemic quiets GOP calls for food stamps drug testing”:

“Republican leaders say they will reject a drug testing requirement when they consider food stamp legislation this week, a dramatic change in position that’s mostly a response to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway said he’ll vote against any drug testing amendment to the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, otherwise known as the Farm Bill, which is set for committee markup Wednesday.

‘Given the heightened awareness today of the opioid crisis in this country as well as other drug addictions, punishing people at this point in time when we are working to get them off these programs may be counterproductive,’ Conaway said.”

Hooray for Rep. Conaway! As with the American Right’s better-late-than-never conversion on the broader question criminal justice generally — where even the Koch Brothers and their minions have finally come to the realization that the nation’s mad rush to lock up a huge proportion of its population was hugely wasteful and doomed to failure — the flip flop is extremely welcome. The sooner that Americans of all ideologies finally learn to treat drug abuse as a public health crisis and non-abusing drug use by adults as an entirely private matter, the better.

Still, as with so many other policy shifts resulting from the opioid crisis (e.g. the conservative “180” on the availability of opioid reversal drugs and clean needle exchange programs), one can’t help but wonder if this change would have happened if the most publicized face of American drug abuse was still a person of color using crack rather than a down-on-his-luck, white Midwesterner addicted to painkillers.

The hard truth is that, for decades, America’s war on drugs has been a war on African Americans. Now that conservative whites are finally waking up to the reality that drug addiction and the behavior associated with it can afflict people of all backgrounds, let’s hope it opens more eyes to racial inequities that continue to plague so many other aspects of our society.

Commentary, What's Race Got To Do With It?

The economic barriers that still confront African American North Carolinians

In case you missed it earlier this week, analyst Will Munn has authored an important new entry in the NC Budget and Tax Center’s “Prosperity Watch” series. His finding: Despit some progress the data confirm that African Americans in North Carolina still must confront large economic barriers.

Some progress in North Carolina over 50 years, but barriers persist for African Americans

Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission concluded that “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing” and structural racism had created barriers to opportunity for African-Americans to earn, save and engage in civic life.

Reflecting on the Kerner Commission report after five decades, researchers from the Economic Policy Institute last week revealed that progress has been made in absolute terms for African-Americans but limited in removing barriers that maintain persistently high differences in outcomes for African Americans relative to whites.

Nationally, researchers from the Economic Policy Institute found that 34.7 percent of all African Americans nationally lived in poverty in 1968, compared to 21.4 percent today.[1]  Correspondingly, 10 percent of whites in 1968 lived in poverty compared to 8.8 percent in 2016.[2] In North Carolina the census of 1970 found that 38.7 percent of African American families lived in poverty compared to 11.1 percent of white families in North Carolina.[3] [4] In 2016, a similar measure found that 23.4 percent of African Americans in North Carolina lived in poverty while 12 percent of whites experienced the same economic status.[5] Both nationally and statewide these numbers represent progress for African Americans with a decline in absolute poverty rates and a reduction in the difference in the experience of poverty for African-Americans and whites. While that difference was 27.5 percentage points in 1968, the difference dropped to 11.45 percentage points in 2016.

Nationally and at the state level, differences in the unemployment rates by race have widened over the past 50 years.[6] An unemployment rate gap in North Carolina that was nearly 4 percentage points 50 years ago has now stretched to 5 percentage points.[7]

While important to acknowledge the drop in poverty both in absolute and relative terms for African-Americans, the persistent barriers in employment will continue to leader to differences in economic outcomes that keep North Carolina from reaching our full economic potential.

[1] Jones, J., Schmitt, J., & Wilson, V. (2018, February 26). 50 years after the Kerner Commission: African Americans are better off in many ways but are still disadvantaged by racial inequality. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/publication/50-years-after-the-kerner-commission.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bohme, F. G. (1976). 1970 census of population and housing: procedural history (United States., Bureau of the Census). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.
[4] Social Explorer Tables, Census 1970, Social Explorer & U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Status for Families
[5] Social Explorer Tables: ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau, Poverty Status in 2016
[6] Ibid.
[7] Social Explorer Tables: ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), ACS 2016 (1-Year Estimates), Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau, Unemployment Rate for The Population 16 Years and Over

 

News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

What’s race got to do with it? UNC emails highlight views on Confederate statue controversy

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of NC Policy Watch blog posts examining disproportionate impacts on race — in the environment, education, the courts and other sectors — and the structural issues that lead to these inequalities.

My story this week on the main Policy Watch site examines hundreds of UNC Board of Governors emails concerning the ongoing controversy over “Silent Sam” – the only Confederate monument on a UNC campus.

The emails were sent last summer in the wake of deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and protesters toppling a Confederate statue in Durham. They give some insight into how fractured, contentious and backbiting relations have gotten on the UNC Board of Governors. But it’s worth remembering that UNC President Margaret Spellings and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt touched off the political firestorm at the center of the story by reaching out to Gov. Roy Cooper to convene the N.C. Historical Commission to decide the statue’s fate.

A majority of the board signed on to a letter that called the gesture “weak” and “hand-wringing,” suggesting that the university should meet protests that might threaten the statue not with a discussion of how to deal with the statue but by arresting the protesters.

It would later be revealed that Spellings and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt joked the University of Texas – in Spellings’ native Lone Star state – was “smarter” for immediately taking down their statues while North Carolina’s university system is mired in state-level political fight over the matter with no simple solutions.

The movement to remove the “Silent Sam” statue from UNC’s campus is very diverse. Students, staff, professors, alumni and even members of the UNC Board of Governors from various racial backgrounds have argued that the statue is racially offensive. But as emphasized in an interview with Dr. Valerie Johnson, a Bennett College professor who taught on UNC’s campus and is now on the historical commission, the greatest burden of the issue rests with Black people who are confronted with a monument to the confederacy on the campus where they work and study.

“If you have a big, gigantic statue to something that touts the supremacy of one group over another, that’s not a true reflection of the history,” Johnson said in her interview with Policy Watch. “You have one single view of that history.”

“I know this is a point of contention,” Johnson said. “Because some say the Civil War was an honorable cause. But for those of us who believe in the Union and understand what was at stake, it was seditious activity.”

“We can have conversation about that, but if that’s the only statue that is there, the only thing that is interpreting that aspect of history, you will get folks who recapitulate that – that it was an honorable endeavor, an honorable war,” Johnson said. “I want that to be in contention.It was not okay to enslave other humans. It’s still not okay. Full stop. Period.”

For Johnson and other professors from a large and growing list of departments at UNC and beyond, reducing the conversation about “Silent Sam” to one of law and order and the need to simply arrest protesters is offensive on multiple levels.

As Durham District Attorney Roger Echols made clear in a statement on those charged with toppling a Confederate statue in his city, the issue is far more complicated. This is from Echols’ statement: Read more