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Black Unemployment Rises

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After falling into the single digits in April, the Black unemployment rate increased to 10.2 percent in May, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department.

The national unemployment rate also increased from 5.4 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May. Most economists attribute the slight uptick in the jobless rate to the fact that more workers, nearly 400,000 by Labor Department estimates, entered the labor market last month. The national labor force participation rate, the share of the population that either has a job or is currently looking for one, crept up to 62.9 percent from 62.8 percent the previous month. The number of Blacks in the labor force also increased, but the participation rate was steady at 62 percent, compared to the White labor force participation rate, which rose from 62.8 percent in April to 63 percent in May.

The White unemployment rate hasn’t budged since February 2015 and in May it was still 4.7 percent. And while the share of the Black population that held a job, also known as the E-POP ratio, fell from 56 percent to 55.7 percent, the E-POP ratio showed a thin increase among Whites (59.9 percent in April vs. 60 percent in May).

The jobless rate for Black men over 20 years-old leaped a full percentage point from 9.2 percent in April to 10.2 percent in May and the participation rate for Black men decreased from 68.7 percent in April to 68.5 percent in May During the same period, the unemployment rate for White men fell from 4.4 percent to 4.2 percent in May. The labor force rate for White men was steady month over month at 72.2 percent.

The jobless rate and the labor force participation rate for Black women over 20 years-old didn’t budge in May and were 8.8 percent 61.9 percent, respectively. Meanwhile the unemployment rate for White women ticked up to 4.3 percent in May from 4.2 percent in April and the participation rate dipped to 57.3 percent from 57.6 percent in April.

Although economists often caution against drawing long-term conclusions based on one months jobs report, the Black jobless rate is still nearly double the national rate a trend that has continued for decades.

As the recovery continues, economists also continue to search for reasons why hourly wages haven’t improved more as the labor market tightens and the national unemployment rate falls toward pre-recession levels.

A recent report by the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a national group that advocates for social, racial and economic justice, pointed to Federal Reserve policies that seem to favor Wall Street over Main Street.

“The Federal Reserve’s focus over the past 35 years has been on price stability, or tamping down inflation,” said the CPD report. “While this focus is good for Wall Street, it has resulted in wage stagnation for most workers on Main Street.”

The report also said that wages have been stagnant or falling for the vast majority of workers since 2000.

The report continued: “While at the median, wages for white workers have risen only 2.5 percent in 14 years, African-American workers have seen a wage cut of 3.1 percent over the same period.”

The CPD report recommended that the Federal Reserve support policies that build a “full employment economy,” keep interest rates low for cities and states to encourage investments in infrastructure, and focus on policies that can help to grow a stronger middle class.

In a recent blog post on job growth and wages, Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said that if the economy added 280,000 jobs a month, the jobs gap would be closed by August 2016, but if the economy only added 207,000 jobs per month, the most recent three month average, “at that pace, we wouldn’t return to pre-recession labor market health until April 2017.”

In a statement about the Labor Department’s jobs report, Chad Stone, the chief economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank that studies how budget decisions affect low-income families, that even though many of the labor market indicators have recovered since the Great Recession, it’s still too early for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

“By testing whether it can push unemployment lower — rather than play it safe to avoid any risk of inflation — the Fed could bring more workers back into the labor force, help more long-term unemployed find work, and begin to generate solid wage gains for most workers,” Stone said in the statement.

The Federal Reserve shouldn’t even think about raising interest rates until 2016, Gould said because the recovery is still lukewarm and wages are mostly flat.

Connie Razza, the director of strategic research for the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a national group that advocates for social, racial and economic justice, echoed those concerns.

In a press release about the jobs report, Razza said that unemployment among women and people of color is disproportionately high and that “many of those who have found work remain underemployed, underpaid, and unfairly scheduled.”

Razza continued: “Against this backdrop, the next steps for the Federal Reserve are clear. The Fed should keep interest rates low to let the economy continue its recovery, which will lead to more jobs and higher wages. This is the only monetary policy option that supports an inclusive recovery.”

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Activism

Meet the Woman Who Spearheaded Equity, Inclusion in the Business World

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses. “We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” said Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

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Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)
Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of Mason Tillman Associates, a consulting firm that shines the light on unfair practices in government contracting nationwide. (Pat Mazzera/Mason Tillman Associates via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

Eleanor Ramsey, president and CEO of the firm Mason Tillman Associates, has been creating change for Black people and other minorities long before she started consulting.

In an interview last Wednesday at her office in downtown Oakland, Ramsey said she first worked on easing racial conflict by serving on the student relations council in high school. The goal was to integrate the lunchroom in a school that consisted of 80% white students and 20% Black students.

Ramsey went on to get a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and has been operating Mason Tillman Associates since starting it in 1978. Her firm’s name is a combination of Ramsey’s maiden name, Mason, and Tillman, a last name by which her husband was known.

Among many things, Mason Tillman Associates conducts disparity studies that show how equitably or inequitably governments distribute contracts to outside businesses.

“We have been able to improve the lives of many minority and woman business owners,” Ramsey said, adding that the work has been helping them secure contracts and improve profitability.

Mason Tillman Associates’ statistical research has revealed institutional practices systemically limiting minority businesses’ access to public contracts.

The company’s disparity study research and policy recommendations have helped identify and modify governments’ practices. Consequently, billions of dollars have been distributed more fairly in over 150 cities, counties, and states since 1978, she said. For example, New York State’s current minority business law is predicated on a Mason Tillman disparity study.

Oakland officials were at first reluctant to release a disparity study for their city, causing an outcry from the Black community. The study — kicked off by Ramsey’s firm — was eventually released in November 2020. Mason Tillman Associates plans to update it following a year of talks.

The company is also credited with preparing the nation’s first competitive disparity study, which was done for Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1990.

Disparity studies aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re the law. Following a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, disparity studies must be prepared to document the need for awarding contracts to minorities. Lawmakers can no longer give preference to minorities without evidence from a study.

Ramsey suspects 300 to 400 studies have been conducted since the SCOTUS decision.

She has also been at the forefront of breaking through ceilings for businesswomen.

“The notion of the glass ceiling was very real,” she said, adding that for Black women, the ceiling was made of “concrete.”

Starting Mason Tillman Associates gave her an occupation when doors were closed for Black women following her attempt to become a university professor, she said.

“You walked a fine line,” said Ramsey.

Women could not come off as too intelligent without offending men. She refined the art of levity to make people feel comfortable.

Before Mason Tillman Associates, Ramsey worked as a flight attendant for the now-defunct yet iconic Pan American Airways. She was the second Black female flight attendant to be hired by Pan Am, which was the only international carrier in the U.S. in the 1960s. Pan Am was known for its stewardesses — now called flight attendants, another positive change for women in the workforce.

Ramsey managed to earn her doctorate in 1977 while raising six children. Then she applied for jobs as a professor and neither UC Berkeley nor the University of Colorado Boulder would hire her. Society wasn’t ready for a Black female professor, she said.

Her experience has taken her on some interesting journeys. While living in Boulder, she secured a contract with the National Park Service to investigate whether Wilberforce, Ohio, was once part of the underground railroad. That, she said, was the start of her consulting business.

Since starting Mason Tillman Associates 44 years ago, Ramsey has trained many professionals in the company’s Oakland headquarters. The firm continues to help redefine managers’ views of Black businesses in agencies nationwide.

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Business

Gov Newsom Signs Several Bills to ‘Strengthen’ Cannabis Laws

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1326, which creates a process for California to enter into agreements with other states to allow cannabis transactions with entities outside of California. He also signed Senate Bill 1186, put forth by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which preempts local bans on medicinal cannabis delivery in an effort to expand patients’ access to legal, regulated cannabis products.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo: Office of the Governor of California)
California Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo: Office of the Governor of California)

By Bay City News

Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 18, signed several measures that he says will strengthen the state’s cannabis laws, expand the legal cannabis market, and “redress the harms of cannabis prohibition.”

Newsom signed Senate Bill 1326, which creates a process for California to enter into agreements with other states to allow cannabis transactions with entities outside of California. He also signed Senate Bill 1186, put forth by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which preempts local bans on medicinal cannabis delivery in an effort to expand patients’ access to legal, regulated cannabis products.

Oakland Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D) put forth Assembly Bill 1706, which Newsom signed, which seals old cannabis-related convictions for Californians. Newsom also signed Assembly Bill 2188 by Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), which protects Californians from employment discrimination based on their use of cannabis off-the-clock and away from the workplace.

Newsom also announced that he has directed the California Department of Public Health to convene experts to survey current scientific research and policy mechanisms to address the growing emergence of high-potency cannabis and hemp products. He also directed the Department of Cannabis Control to examine potency and its related health impacts.

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#LetItBeKnown

Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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