Will Trump help black Americans?
Donald J. Trump: a champion for black Americans? It may sound implausible. After all, the president seemingly never even heard of Frederick Douglass. Yet there’s a real chance that Trump could do more than his immediate predecessors to help black Americans overcome the defining civil rights’ challenge of our time — unequal access to good jobs.
Unemployment and underemployment are the greatest economic threats facing black Americans as blacks are unemployed at double the rate of whites — 8 percent vs. 4 percent — and earn take home paychecks averaging just $675 per week, compared to the $881 average paychecks whites get.
Due to structural barriers, these gaps have persisted for decades. If they’re not resolved, America is at risk of creating a permanent black underclass. One such barrier is a failing education system. Forty-five percent of black children are zoned into high-poverty public schools. Only 7 percent of white students suffer that injustice.
Graduates from such schools are about 20 percent less likely to enroll in college than graduates of wealthier schools, and the number of those who never graduate is alarming. Job prospects are bleak for workers without college degrees or experience in the skilled trades, and even worse for those who have only a high school diploma.
Trump has promised a massive taxpayer-funded voucher program to give “every disadvantaged child in America ... a choice about where they go to school.” Providing all children the opportunity to attend successful public, charter or private schools would increase their economic potential. Students who attended charter schools earn about 10 percent — over $2,000 — more per year in their mid-20s than students who attended public high schools, according to a study of Florida schools.
Another issue Trump has embraced is the need for our justice system to be vigorous and fair, yet dozens of studies show that relative to whites, blacks are over-engaged by police, hyper-prosecuted by state’s attorneys, prejudged by non-minority jurors and disproportionately sentenced to longer terms by judges.
Let’s hope the Trump administration realizes that smart criminal justice reforms can go hand in hand with “law and order” policies. A criminally unfair justice system further restricts black Americans’ employment opportunities, making it that much more difficult for black Americans, particularly black males, to become economic contributors. An unfair justice system hurts everyone.
Black workers also frequently face employer discrimination, and much of this has to do with the failures of the education and criminal justice systems mentioned above. Whites are still two times more likely than blacks to get interview callbacks and four times more likely to be hired. And black employees tend to be denied raises or fired for a mistake that wouldn't be career-ending for white workers.
Many black workers struggle to obtain jobs that pay a living wage due to excessive competition from foreign workers. It’s unacceptable that Americans have to compete with eight million illegal aliens for blue-collar jobs.
Failing schools, an inequitable justice system and unfair employment competition have hurt all Americans, but especially black Americans. Our new president can’t “Make America Great Again” for everyone unless he eliminates these structural inequities.
Tom Broadwater is president of Americans4Work, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of minority, youth and disabled workers.