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14 Jun 2014

Black economics and the ultimate “Catch 22”

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June 14, 2014 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Rahim Islam

It’s no longer what they are doing to us; it’s what we are not doing!!!

The Black community has been through it all and continues to struggle with the number of disparities that we face (i.e. heath, incarcerations, education, employment, etc.), but there is no bigger disparity and more damaging to our community, than the economic disparity that exist between the Black community and the White community. The economic challenges are so out of control, the term Black Economics has become an oxymoron.

What is a “Catch 22?” Let me give you an example: When trying to get the job we are told that we need experience. The challenge for us is how we can get the experience if we don’t get the job? This is a “Catch 22.” Our people have faced these types of Catch 22’s time and time again and we’ve figured out how to overcome them. However, overcoming the many economic Catch 22’s has been extremely elusive and, in many respects, contributes to every other socio-economic issue facing our community.

In my humble opinion, some of the most damaging economic “Catch 22” are the high level of unemployment and the significant disinvestment and/or no investment that exists in our urban communities. With unemployment amongst Black men between the ages of 18 – 35 hovering between 40-60 percent, coupled with a long-term failed public school system, it’s a no-brainer that our communities and our men turn to an illegal and underground economy to survive. This is why this same group of Black men represents the largest group of men in the industrial prison complex (Black men represent only 7 percent of the US male population but occupy nearly 50 percent of the prison population). Catch 22: We can’t get community investment without a safe environment and workforce that is prepared and we can’t get a safe environment and prepared workforce without investment.

Access to jobs is the lifeline for any society and contrary to popular belief economic statistics show that the biggest job creators in America are small businesses, not corporate America. If the small businesses in our community are anemic, it has a direct impact on our ability to provide employment opportunities, especially when you consider that most businesses hire their own meaning that whites hire whites, Italian hire Italians, Irish hire Irish and Blacks hire Blacks. We must do all we can to keep our Black businesses in business because when this happens more Black entrepreneurs will invest and establish more businesses in our community – creating more jobs for our community.

A key economic indicator to determine the promise of a group/area are the number of businesses they startup. Blacks are dead last starting only eight businesses per 1,000 people compared to whites who are starting 90 businesses per 1,000. There are a number of other factors that contribute to this statistic but the fact remains, more start-ups create more choices, more competition, more capacity, more opportunity, and ultimately more JOBS (This is capitalism at its best). However, when a community doesn’t have a healthy number of business start-ups, it sends a signal to the market not to invest and increases entrepreneurial risk, which is the basis for business creation.

Another key economic indicator that is directly related to the growth of Black businesses is the number of times a dollar is circulated amongst its own group before it goes to another group. This is critical because it represents that a community understands the value of a dollar. It also demonstrates that there is wide array of products and services provided by Black-owned businesses and that a healthy number of Black-owned businesses are supporting each other. In the Asian community the dollar will circulate nearly 7 times before it leaves its community; in the white community this number is 5 times; in the Black community a dollar will only circulate less than .5 times (not a full percent – this is anemic). Catch 22: We can’t increase the circulation of the dollar without increasing the number of business startups and vice-versa.

We can beat these “Catch 22s.” Never underestimate the ability of our people to rise to challenge regardless of the circumstances that we face at the time of trial. As a people, we’ve overcome challenge after challenge and today’s challenge, if not met, will make our people a permanent underclass in this country. We have no option but to act now. We are champions and descendants of greatness but this generation must rise to the occasion and the challenge and like those before us, must prove our greatness. We must do the work without fear of failure.

If we are to reverse these very humbling economic conditions, we must adopt the “Do for Self” approach. I started this column by saying “It’s no longer what they are doing to us; it’s what we are not doing” and what we are not doing is supporting our Black-owned businesses. We must go out of our way to buy from a Black-owned business and we must stop making EXCUSES. We must overcome the brainwashing that says someone else’s water is wetter. We must also make a conscious sacrifice to sometimes endure the inferior level of product and service amongst our Black businesses compared to their competition due to the many challenges we endure to compete because we’re not getting our own support (I will speak to this with my next column). When we spend with our own we are Doing for Self and your support will:

•Create more black-owned businesses;

•Create better, competitive products and services and pricing amongst our Black-owned businesses;

•Create more jobs for our Black men and women – especially our youth;

•Reduce the number of Black men in prison and allow them to provide and protect their families and their community; and

•Ultimately reduce Black poverty and change the downward economic trajectory of our people.


[Rahim Islam is the convener of the Philadelphia Community of Leaders and CEO of Universal Companies]

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