By William Reed
Rather than gloat over the Republicans getting their clocks cleaned in the government shutdown fiasco, it’s worth Blacks taking time to note our dependency on government. In some form, more than half of Americans rely on the government – 165 million out of 308 million. Of these, 107 million Americans rely on welfare, 46 million seniors benefit from Medicare and there are 22 million government employees.
Americans’ ethics regarding self-reliance has dwindled as eligibility for Medicaid, food stamps, earned income tax credit, work pay tax credit and unemployment benefits have increased since 2009. In 2010, more than 70 percent of federal spending went to such programs. This dependency on government sets too many Americans up for low aspirations and generations of welfare and poverty. And, the problem for Blacks is that we often rely too much on government.
Washington, D.C. is home to the “wealthiest concentration of Blacks in America.” In D.C., and around the world, more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed during the shutdown. A disproportionate number of furloughed federal workers happened to be African Americans. Because government jobs have always been more available to Blacks than private sector employment, Blacks comprise 17.7 percent of the federal workforce. Overall, people of color represent 34 percent of the federal workforce. Latinos are 8 percent, Asians are 5.8 percent and Native Americans are 2.1 percent. People of color comprise 37 percent of the U.S. population, a figure projected to grow to 57 percent by 2060.
Since the 2007 Great Recession, federal, state and local government agencies have pared down payrolls and eliminated positions that sustained millions of Black middle-class workers for decades. Since the beginning of 2007, some 375,000 government jobs have been eliminated. Nearly 21 percent of the nation’s working Black adults have government jobs. Public agencies are the single largest employer for Black men, and the second most common for Black women. During the shutdown many recipients of Head Start, HUD Section 8 and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, lost funding.
It’s important for Blacks to know and understand the difference between the private and public sectors. Black workers have fared so much worse than other segments of the population since the recession’s end. In May, the unemployment rate among Black Americans reached 16.2 percent, up from 15.5 percent a year earlier. By contrast, White unemployment was 8 percent, an improvement from the 8.8 percent level of the previous year.
But now, with the broader economy stuck in a deep rut and working opportunities chronically lean, those government jobs are diminishing, too. From the Post Office to the White House, a government job has long offered African Americans pathways to middle-class lifestyles. The loss of government paychecks erodes one of what Blacks considered during the past century as an equalizing force.
It’s as if Blacks can’t see beyond the proponents of “big government socialism” and attitudes of dependency. Blacks would do well to limit the amount of government dependence in their lives. Without meaningful private-sector endeavors, the Black middle-class cannot sustain itself. Some would say today’s Black middle-class is no more than an illusion. Terms such as “job creation” and “economic engines” must become more commonplace in Blacks’ vernacular.
As stunted as their economics have been under Democratic governments, the mindset among African Americans remains Democratic and “big government inclined.” A 2011 report by Globescan showed the number of U.S. citizens who believe in the strength of a free market economy dropped to 59 percent. When Globescan first conducted this survey 10 years ago, 80 percent of Americans favored a free market economic system. Those people with the lowest annual incomes were found to be more likely to oppose a free market economy. Heritage Foundation findings report that on average, Americans who depend on federal assistance received $32,748 in annual benefits, which is approximately $6,000 more than an average American worker makes in a year.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.