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June 21 2018

Juneteenth Is Over but Progress for Blacks Must Grow

via Newsmax
by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Today, it takes seconds for the president of the United States to announce a sweeping national policy to the world with a tweet. News traveled much more slowly back in 1865.

When millions of slaves in America were freed by the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn't until the early summer of 1865 that slaves in Texas learned of their freedom.

That's right. Nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, 250,000 blacks in Texas remained enslaved and totally ignorant of their right to earn wages for their time and sweat.

Finally, on June 19 Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas and announced that "all slaves are free" and advised the freemen to "work for wages."

That was welcome news to be sure, but it was just the beginning of a tumultuous relationship that blacks would have with the American labor force.

Freedom did not guarantee employment or economic freedom. The system of sharecropping replaced slavery, but unfair business practices kept black tenant farmers severely indebted and tied to the lands they farmed.

Restrictive laws passed by southern states called "Black Codes" limited property rights and forced blacks into contractual work agreements under severe penalties.

Concerted efforts by unions in the post-Civil War era excluded blacks from trades, railroads, manufacturing, and other unions through segregation and intimidation.

Sadly, that discrimination persists today. Yet, blacks persevered.

A century after slavery ended for 3.2 million blacks, they had multiplied five-fold.

The number of employed blacks more than doubled from 7.8 million when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began tracking this data in the 1970s to 18.5 million today.

Educational attainment has been a driver of success for blacks in the labor force. Literacy for slaves was illegal (and punishable) in some southern states, leaving few newly freed black able to read or write. But black illiteracy dropped astonishingly from 80 percent in 1870 to 23 percent by 1920.

Now, blacks have turned their focus on college attainment.

In 1992, fewer blacks had a bachelor's degree (15.9 percent) than lacked a high school diploma. Today, nearly two out of three blacks (61 percent) have at least some college and just 7.5 percent don't have a high school diploma.

Yet this big picture of progress also includes significant setbacks.

One of the saddest stories from the past two decades is that blacks lost over half of labor force gains from the prior 30 years. The black labor force participation rate steadily climbed from 59.9 percent in 1972 to peak in 1999 at 65.8 percent.

Sadly it then began to decline, bottoming out in 2013 and holding at 61.2 percent for another year, before beginning to rise again.

In 2017, the percent of employed blacks to overall black population (57.6 percent) just recovered to pre-recession levels, but it has yet to hit its all-time high of 61 percent.

Let's give credit where credit is due. Unemployment for blacks began to fall under President Obama's recovery, but has accelerated under the Trump administration.

In May, the black unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in recorded history. For the first time, it hovers under 6 percent and the gap between black and white unemployment is finally narrowing

There is reason to hope for progress to continue. According to a recent Harvard-Harris poll, 58 percent of African American voters say the economy is strong and 32 percent say it is heading in the right direction.

In the same poll, a third of African Americans also say they are better off in their personal financial situation, compared to 27 percent who are worse off.

As a result, support among some blacks for the president is rising.

The president and other policymakers can earn more support by continuing to open the doors of opportunity and prosperity, which have eluded blacks for generations.

To start, they should focus on reforming unnecessary requirements for professional licenses, reforming restrictions on professional licenses for non-violent offenders, improving access to startup capital for entrepreneurs, and working with academia and the business sector to expand educational and training programs.

It's fitting to celebrate a day that officially ended a heinous chapter in American history marred by slavery, but it's even more important to focus on ensuring progress continues for blacks in the future.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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