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A 'three-letter' solution to reduce American racial tension: Jobs

A 'three-letter' solution to reduce American racial tension: Jobs
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Honestly, who can forget Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Five things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs MORE’s economic strategy during the 2008 campaign? The solution, he said, is “a three-letter word: J-O-B-S!” Putting aside another spectacular Biden gaffe, and his continued divisive pandering (they’ll “put y’all back in chains”), his white-splaining was right on this point. With painful racial strife in America, the most promising long-term solution remains jobs. 

Since 1964, America has worked hard to right historical wrongs against blacks. Laws to end discrimination and segregation were passed and aggressively enforced. Laws to help blacks and whites out of poverty were enacted. Social justice programs were aimed at helping overcome bias in hiring, promotions and college admissions; living in any neighborhood; obtaining mortgages; providing financial aid to poor families; providing daycare for working mothers; providing food for families and for children at school; giving children a “head start” in learning; paying for housing and legal aid; financing minority-owned businesses; providing free health care for the poor; and integrating public schools to provide equal educational opportunity.

Trillions of dollars were spent and tens of millions of families from all races were helped out of poverty, fed, housed and transitioned into jobs. Black Americans, diminished in the early part of the last century, emerged as highly visible and powerful in all walks of American life — media, business, politics, sports, entrepreneurs and all the professions. Many became enormously wealthy. But serious racial problems persist. Whites must understand that the black experience in America today, though better than 50 years ago, is still very different from what whites experience.

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Thirty percent of working white mothers are single; 67 percent of working black mothers are single. Black children have a 68 percent chance of being raised by a single parent, probably working; a white child, 25 percent, and often the parent does not need to work. Many whites initially react badly to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and raise children in a communal structure. But BLM has a point. Programs such as Aid For Families with Dependent Children have effectively helped to destroy the black nuclear family since the 1960s by providing greater benefits for fatherless households — it would take generations to fix that, if ever; hence a communal solution. 

The relative wealth gap between whites and blacks is large, even accounting for inheritance. The wage gap is significant. The education gap, and relative public school quality, are significant. Since 1964, both whites and blacks are better off and have progressed notably in wages, high school and college graduation, and wealth, but large gaps remain. And the experiences and feelings are very different. 

There have been calls for reparations and other “programs.” But the last thing black Americans need is more “programs.” Some existing programs have helped, but they haven’t solved the problem. When wealthy, successful, black CEOs, movie and TV stars, athletes, doctors and lawyers, professors and political leaders experience perceived or clear racism — every day — something is not working. Systemic, institutional racism is not an illusion. Regardless of crime and police and fatality statistics, when black Americans of all income levels say they resent or fear many police attitudes or practices in their communities, something needs to change. 

With this complex environment, it is not hard to imagine the huge and building resentment exploding into rage. Polls are consistent: The black experience in America is very different than the white experience. If minorities are not comfortable in America, none of us should be. Until all Americans feel as privileged as white Americans, our country is not great enough.

Response to demands for police reforms may provide some relief, but no amount of police reform, no war on drugs, no reparations or other aid will change fears, resentments and subtle but perceptible racist attitudes. 

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Time is the answer, but hard for an impatient society expecting to fix immediately any problem, given enough data and research. But there is no quick, “revolutionary” answer. On the other hand, there is an effective answer: jobs. Real jobs with a real future — as opposed to government-fabricated jobs — can create hope, identity, mutual respect and self-respect, upward mobility and daily interaction with other types of people and cultures. It is the key meeting ground to slowly change the social fabric — not without friction and conflict, but certainly with growing understanding and appreciation of one another. It’s slow, and not the sole solution, but continuing to work together and create together is America’s best shot at achieving racial harmony.

In that vein, it is especially important to create more private sector job opportunities for lower-income individuals, so that everyone can find a job with a future. Government jobs are important, but our economy cannot grow and help all Americans prosper without a dynamic private sector, and minorities must be a growing part of where the best opportunities lie.

America’s social contract should be to expand private investment to create jobs, and commit — yes, and strongly push — all private sector companies to hire and train as many minorities as possible into good, long-term jobs. Similarly, summer youth jobs should not be mindless and paternalistic make-work, but a serious introduction to all aspects of business and the market. A truly great America must commit to a great future for everyone, and it’s spelled ... jobs.

Grady Means is a writer and former corporate strategy consultant. While at the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, he worked on civil rights and expansion of America’s social safety net programs. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.