Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
The struggle for “economic” equality and freedom in America for Black people has been a long and onerous one and to this day has not been achieved. Blacks have yet to secure the same opportunity (equality) as Whites to pursue economic prosperity in America and secure wealth (freedom).
The facts are that the Black community currently dominates in every negative demographic (i.e. poverty, incarceration, health, academic achievement, unemployment and underemployment, etc.) and ranks “dead” last in every positive demographic (i.e. job and business creation, wealth, income, business growth, etc.) absolutely invisible in the one category that matters the most – INCOME and WEATLH creating disparities between Black and Whites that are nearly insurmountable. I call this an Economic Structural Deficit.
Most demographic disparities are deemed manageable when they are within a percentage point margins of 3-6 points with 6 being an extreme outside number that is possibly uncorrectable. Unfortunately, the Black community is experiencing disparity margins way past the “extreme” 6 as an outside number. In most cases the disparities that the Black community face are so far past extreme there is no adjective to describe except but “extreme” “extreme.” Our outside number, in many cases, go as far a 40-percentage point differential which by statistical terms impossible to fix.
To improve these types of disparities will require a new and different approach unlike anything we have seen to date – they’re just that insane.
Unfortunately, most of these disparities will only worsen over next 15-20 years because the pipeline is “primed” to continue or maintain the status quo – the disease has contaminated the entire continuum. Even if these disparities were treatable, they couldn’t be fixed in any one calendar year, generation or even a lifetime – these types of disparities can only be addressed over a sustained period of time (i.e. 200- 300 years) and when they are not addressed, they become insurmountable and become structural in nature.
We must not act like these disparities are just incidental and have no meaning on our day-today life, this is absolutely preposterous – the wealth and income gap is not a gap but more like a canyon. These disparities have their roots in our nearly 400-year struggle in America and we will never be able to address them without looking at the historical context that developed them. The Black community can’t get out of the economic rut that we find ourselves in because our issues are tied to our inability to compete with our White counterpart mainly because of what was done to our community – we were targeted and denied the ability to participate economically pari passu to the White community and now our issues are systemic and structural.
“What do I mean by using the word “structural” – I mean that no matter how much we do, we will not be able to fix the problem unless we begin to change a few things very quickly? Let me give you an example of a structural deficit. Why are we still debating the issue of public education, specifically the public education in urban America or where the majority of Black people live? All of my adult life I’ve seen the political football of education being kicked all over the place without any real positive outcomes for Black people which has contributed to massive wealth disparities.
I could’ve chosen any demographic, but I choose to use public education because of its connection and importance to one’s ability to earn an income. The better the education, the potential for a higher income one can earn. I say potential because the rest of the continuum is not even as well. Black are still the last hired and first fired. The upward mobility, which produces income growth, is evident by the anemic representation of Blacks within management (it doesn’t matter what the business sector). Even though we’re spending more money now on public education than we did in 1954, the time of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. the Board of Education. Public education, within most Black communities, remains fundamentally flawed and we can no longer call this a statistical trend. It now represents a structural deficit and no matter what we do – it appears that it can’t be fixed with revenues usually decreasing and cost are increasing.
Even with normal conditions (by all standards, the Black community is and has always exhibited abnormal conditions) most estimate that it cost $25,000-$30,000 a year to educate a child and depending on the community, the funding gap is nearly $15,000-$20,000 per child. So, what are we doing year after year and not having the funds equal to others to educate our children? However; public education is a structural deficit because revenues and cost are going in the opposite directions and no one has been able to control either.
Revenues, which are tied to cost sharing between the states and the local municipalities are seriously underrepresented because the local contribution to public education is tied to real estate values (the real estate values in the Black community are significantly depressed and undervalued).
Costs continue to increase due primarily to: union contracts that keep wages and benefits rising; annual contributions to the pension funds that are at or near insolvency; high facility cost that are tied to old and outdated physical buildings and power systems; and children that are coming to school unprepared and ill-prepared for the rigors of school (children are coming to school with an awful lot more problems than at any time in our history).
There are two sides of public education; there is the business side (revenues and cost) and there is the service delivery side (how good and effective is the education). If the business side is handled, it still doesn’t truly solve the public education issue because there are a thousand structural issues that impact the delivery of public education including but not limited to the cultural gap (disproportionate number of White teachers to Black students) and the absence of an “African” centered curriculum that will truly teach Black self-determination and liberation. The structural deficit in public education is real and can’t be fixed without an absolute paradigm shift coupled with a massive influx of resources.
Like public education, on a macro level, the entire Black community is experiencing a structural deficit by not getting its fair share of resources from within the economy and oversubscribed level of social problems that cost more to resolve.
The Black community has a real numbers problem. In addition to not having enough resources to combat our problems, the circulation of money (the length of time a dollar stays in the community before it leaves) is the lowest of any group.
While the Black community suffers from a multitude of social and economic issues, most if not all could/would be addressed by addressing the most important system within the community (economics).
Our struggle in America is, and always will be, about ECONOMCIS AND ECONOMCIS ONLY! If we organize around an economic agenda, most, if not all, of our issues can and will dissolve.