The Director’s Corner

Spring 2015

image of Janice Hale

Janice E. Hale, Ph.D.

Professor of Early Childhood Education

Founding Director of ISAAC

Wayne State University

Detroit, Michigan

African American Learners has issued a Call for Papers for a Special Issue in the fall of 2016 on African American Reparations. I am grateful to V.P. Franklin, Ph.D., ISAAC Founding Sponsor and ISAAC Senior Fellow for accepting my invitation to serve as a Guest Editorship my column, the Director's Corner. In the column, Dr. Franklin shares his thoughts on the Case for African American Reparations. We are seeking manuscripts and volunteers to serve as Guest Editors for the Special Issue.

"Racial Disparities, African American Youth, and the Case for Reparations"

V. P. Franklin, Ph.D.
University of California, Riverside
27 June 2015

In an administration whose educational policies leave much to be desired, President Barack Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" program is at least one move in the right direction. But given the current economic disparities between African Americans and whites in the United States, the calls for reparations payments and compensation to improve educational and employment outcomes for African American youth need to be taken seriously.

Under Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the George Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) morphed into "Race to the Top" (RTP) and the emphasis on high-stakes testing and the opening of charter schools expanded to include the requirement that states receiving RTP funds develop teacher evaluation programs that include their students' performance on standardized tests. During this same period, however, public school systems in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and other cities had trouble coming up with the funds to pay teachers and staff and keep the schools open through the entire 2014–15 school year. Private financial resources have been infused into public schools, primarily to support the opening of charter schools by "educational entrepreneurs" whose for-profit corporations receive most of their income from the federal government. Meanwhile, evidence that RTP was any better in improving the academic performance of African American students in urban public school districts has remained elusive.

My Brother's Keeper seeks support from the private sector for programs aimed at "improving the lives of the most vulnerable" and to date the initiative has raised $500 million in donations. While this is commendable, evidence from a number of studies suggest that the problems for poor children and youth are huge and multifaceted and would require massive intervention by local, state-wide, regional, and national public and private organizations to improve the current and future conditions. The May 2015 report by the Southern Education Foundation found that whereas in 1995 about 33 percent of public school students were poor and eligible for the free lunch program, by 2000 the figure was 38 percent. However, following the Great Recession, the number and percentage surged so that half of all public school students, 50 percent, were poor. In 2013 these poor students were concentrated in "high poverty schools" where 75 percent of the students enrolled were from low income families. And as would be expected, young African American learners are more likely to attend high poverty schools, 45 percent according to this report; while only 7 percent were enrolled in low poverty schools (the pattern was completely reversed for white students – 8 percent in high poverty schools, 30 percent in low poverty schools).

The recent report by the Social Science Research Council's policy group "Measure of America" offered an even more disconcerting portrait of the educational and employment conditions for African American and other youths of color. In a survey of young people, ages 16 to 24, the group found that 5.5 million were neither in school, nor gainfully employed. In other words, they were disengaged from the major institutions in U. S. society compared to their peers. The absence of skills and work experience for these young people means that when they do obtain jobs, they are low wage and often temporary. And again, African Americans have the highest percentage of disengaged youth, 21.6 percent, with Latinos at 16.3 percent, and whites at 11.3 percent. In the nine metropolitan areas surveyed, up to 24.5 percent of African American young people are shut out of societal institutions. The researchers found that "alienated young peopl…are nearly three times as likely as their employed or in–school counterparts to have left high school without a diploma and are half as likely to obtain a bachelor's degree. And girls and young women in this group are more than three times more likely to have a child as their more socially integrated counterparts."

Unfortunately, even with a bachelor's degree, African American college graduates have higher levels of unemployment and indebtedness from college loans. In a May 2015 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled "A College Degree Is No Guarantee," it was revealed that African American college graduates have a much more difficult time finding employment in their area of training compared to whites. Not only do black graduates lack the social networks and connections to the corporate world, they also face racial discrimination in the job market. John Schmitt, the main author of the report, found that "employers give in to their racial bias and are more likely to offer a job to a white candidate rather than a black candidate." Anita Jenke, executive director of Career Transitions Centers of Chicago, pointed out that even with their degrees, young African American clients face unique barriers in their job search. Some are burdened with family bills, or child or elder care; and their limited incomes means that it is often difficult to obtain money to go back and forth to job fairs and interviews. Among recent black college graduates ages 22 to 27 in 2013, the unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, compared to 5.6 percent for whites. For recent black graduates, 22 years old, the underemployment rate was 67.8 percent, and 56 percent for all 22 year old college grads.

Various reports and studies have revealed that the wealth disparities between African American and white households are due to discriminatory practices in the housing, employment, and credit markets historically, that were only exacerbated by the Great Recession. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a study conducted by the Social Science Research Council, found that in the recovery from the economic downturn "race matters." "All households lost wealth at the height of the housing bust and recession….But beginning in 2009, median white household wealth stopped falling as black household wealth continued to drop. The typical black household lost an additional 13 percent of its wealth between 2009 and 2011." But this is likely to carry over into the next generation and impact the future of African American young people. "By 2031, a typical black household's wealth is forecast to be 40 percent lower than it would have been without the Great Recession."

When the Caribbean nations formed the CARICOM Reparations Commission to seek reparations for the former slave trading nations in Europe, the "Ten Point Program" was subsequently issued to spell out how the reparations payments were to be used. The enforced underdevelopment that accompanied the slave regimes and colonial control was to be rectified by financing improvements in education and literacy training, technology transfers, and expansive cultural programs. At the International Reparations Conference organized by the Institute of the Black World (IBW), held in New York City in April 2015, the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) was constituted. Given the serious economic and educational problems facing African American youth, one of the highest priorities must be to demand reparations payments to assist in improving the educational and employment future for African American youth. My Brother's Keeper is a step in the right direction, but African Americans are owed billions (some say trillions) of dollars in reparations from private corporations and government agencies that targeted them for exploitative labor and financial practices in the past. Reparations payments are needed to deal with the economic and educational disparities identified by various research agencies that predict an even more dire future for our young people if current patterns and trends continue. Recently young and older people organized protests around the country against police violence and terrorism facing African American youth. These activists now need to redirect their efforts to demand reparations from corporations and government agencies that have participated in the exploitative practices that have created the racial disparities in education, employment, housing, and credit that threaten this generation, and future generations, of African American youth.