A nagging issue raised during the 2016 election season is that the Democratic Party, despite all proclamations to the contrary, hasn’t really done much for African-Americans and their communities in the last 40 to 50 years except to enable and increase their dependence on government assistance for help with necessities such as food, shelter and medical care.
In spite of Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton reaching out to black communities and trumpeting Democratic Party support and loyalty to black voters in the last half-century, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the economic disposition and geo-demographic isolation of neighborhoods of color have not changed much since the era of Civil Rights reform of the 1960s.
Democratic promises to lift urban areas and lives out of poverty haven’t amounted to much, as roughly the same number of African-Americans currently live at or below the poverty line of $11,770 per year as they did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, adjusted for inflation. Among single-parent families in the U.S., 44 percent of African-Americans live in poverty. For individuals living alone, the number is near 30 percent.
When one looks at African-American communities in this country, one can see that dependence on food stamps and welfare has only increased as the idea of a government handout has been encouraged by President Obama during his last two election campaigns.
Indeed, some political observers say that a large part of Obama’s support from African-American communities was based on promises to increase these payments. In 2011, costs for government spending on welfare programs were up to $700 billion per year, up by one-third since 2008. In 2010, counting state spending on welfare programs, overall welfare spending was up to almost $900 billion per year, an increase of nearly 25 percent since 2008, according to a study by the Heritage Foundation.
The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has also grown. Under the Obama administration, from April 2009 to November 2013, SNAP benefits increased $45.2 million, or 13.6 percent. This amounted to an average increase in benefits of $133, bringing total benefits for a family of four to $668 per month.
Some specific retail chains have directly benefited from SNAP, including Walmart, which by some reports receives as much as 18 percent of the program’s money while grocery store chain Kroger derives one-sixth of its revenue from the program. Other benefactors which have lobbied for SNAP increases and expansion include Coca-Cola and Pepsico.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 22 percent of SNAP recipients were African-American. The Department reported nearly a billion dollars’ worth of fraudulent and trafficked SNAP benefit payments in 2012; the Cato Institute estimates the real numbers may be three times as high as that.
Much of this dependence on welfare and food stamps can be traced back to a lack of employment opportunities for African-Americans. Between 2010 and 2014, for black men aged 20 to 34, the nation’s joblessness rate was nearly 40 percent. In some urban centers such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, the numbers were roughly 50 percent.
While Democrats in some cases have proposed minimum-wage increases, this does nothing to help unemployed African-Americans, and in fact, these can arguably be said to increase unemployment rates as more companies realize they can afford to hire fewer workers.
One stubborn issue regarding employment is that between one-quarter and one-third of these same jobless men have criminal-justice histories that inhibit much of their hiring. Democrats such as Hillary Clinton have said they wish to see more of these men enrolling in four-year college programs, but this seems unrealistic given their educational backgrounds.
A better idea would likely be to encourage and fund vocational, certificate and work-readiness programs. But liberal Democrats have been loath to encourage such programs, believing that four-year colleges and government-backed grants and loans are the most appropriate solution. The fact that graduation rates of African-Americans from even two-year and community colleges are abysmal does not dissuade them.
Vocational and certificate training may also be a partial solution for another persistent problem in African-American communities: crime. The horrific murder rate in American cities like Chicago reflects a large increase in violent crime in America’s 56 largest cities in 2015.
Last year, there was a 17 percent rise in homicides in these cities. In cities with large African-American populations, the numbers were much higher — in Cleveland, the increase was 90 percent; in Milwaukee, it was 72 percent; in Nashville, it was 83 percent.
Heather McDonald, author of the book, “The War on Cops,” cites what she calls “the Ferguson Effect,” — an effective pullback of police forces in neighborhoods marked by racial tension in the wake of riots by social justice groups like Black Lives Matter. In Chicago in 2015, police cut pedestrian stops by a shocking 90 percent, leading to more than 2200 recorded shootings in the city that year.
Despite all of this, at a commencement speech at historically black Howard University recently, President Obama attributed the success of many of the college’s graduates to “luck,” and spoke of inner-city crime as the product of an “unfair and unjust” system.
“We have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust,” the president said.
“And that means we have to not only question the world as it is and stand up for those African Americans who haven’t been so lucky–because, yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky.” So, there you have it — according to Obama, it wasn’t programs of the Democrats that created or exacerbated these conditions; it was mere “luck” — both good and bad.