Sunday, September 26, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.: Getting to Average

The New York Times > Opinion > HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.: Getting to Average:
"Franklin Raines, the C.E.O. of Fannie Mae, told me. 'We don't need to take everybody from the ghetto and make them Harvard graduates. We just need to get folks to average, and we'd all look around and say, 'My God, what a fundamental change has happened in this country.' '

How big a change? He's done the math. 'If America had racial equality in education and jobs, African-Americans would have two million more high school degrees, two million more college degrees, nearly two million more professional and managerial jobs, and nearly $200 billion more income,' he pointed out in a speech. 'If America had racial equality in housing, three million more Americans would own their own homes. And if America had racial equality in wealth, African-Americans would have $760 billion more in equity value, $200 billion more in the stock market, $120 billion more in their retirement funds and $80 billion more in the bank.' Total: Over $1 trillion. "

…The glory days for the black working class were from 1940 to 1970, when manufacturing boomed and factory jobs were plentiful. But when the manufacturing sector became eclipsed by the service economy, black workers ended up - well, stuck in a demographic Buffalo.

…William Julius Wilson, the sociologist, thinks better manpower policies would help. Once black workers moved to where the jobs were; they need to do it again. Instead of trying to turn ghettos into boomtowns, then, we ought to provide workers with relocation assistance, and create "transitional public sector jobs" for those who haven't yet found a private-sector gig. Oh, and - since we're dreaming - fixing the schools would be nice, including "school-to-work transition programs," to place high school grads in the job market.

Raines, as you might expect, considers homeownership to be crucial to wealth generation. "The average person develops more wealth in their home than they do in the stock market. Next to a job, it's the most important thing in a family's lives." Blacks, he notes, are considerably less likely to own their own homes than whites.

How to afford one, though? "The whole new service economy is fundamentally based on communications, the Internet, electronics," he told me. "That infrastructure is going to need people who can manage it, and those jobs are going to move from very high tech to being service jobs, just the way it happened at the telephone company. You used to have to be a scientist to operate a phone, and then it became a blue-collar job."

But maybe, as the economist Glenn Loury suggests, we need to aim lower. "There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the vast, disproportionate overrepresentation of African-Americans in prison or jails," he told me. "It's our deepest problem." Job training for willing prisoners would be a good start.

Loury considers welfare reform a success: "We ask a lot more of mothers, and they have given us a lot more, and they and we are both better off for our having asked." When it comes to education, though, he advocates "equal expenditures per kid, no matter where they live." In fact, he'd spend more money on inferior school districts, at least over the short run, to bring them up to standard.
con·cept: The New York Times > Opinion > HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.: Getting to Average