Challenges below the radar screen

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, June 2, 2012

By Joseph L. Bass

As we continue in our current political season, we hear a great deal from officer holders and candidates about economic progress made in recent years.

For example, a column by Gov. Bob McDonnell at the end of April outlined the progress made during the 27 months he has been in office. “We are building a ‘Commonwealth of Opportunity,’” he wrote. “Virginia is in the midst of a sustained economic recovery. Yes, it’s still early. But early returns are very positive. The state unemployment rate has fallen 23 percent since we took office, from 7.3 percent in January 2010 to 5.6 percent today. That’s our lowest unemployment rate in over three years and the lowest in the Southeast, by a long shot.”


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President Barack Obama’s campaign website states, “Today we’re releasing a TV ad with a positive message that’s central to the story of this campaign. It traces the path of our nation since President Obama took office, in the midst of the worst financial crisis in nearly a century, and the progress we’ve made so far. This is a message that everyone needs to see.”

We can be confident of hearing much of the same positive rhetoric between now and November. And most of the negatives we will hear about will be “the other fellow’s fault.” Unfortunately, it is possible the issues that will not be discussed during the campaign will be more important to our future as Americans and Virginians than what will be discussed. Consider the following examples.

It is unlikely politicians will discuss that welfare programs started in the 1960s have failed. From 1969 to 2012 the American poverty rate has stayed at or above 12 percent for 43 years. A Forbes magazine article published in April 2011 reported the poverty rate was, “declining from 32 percent in 1950 to 22.4 percent in 1959 to 12.1 percent in 1969, soon after the War on Poverty programs became effective. Progress against poverty as measured by the poverty rate then abruptly stopped.”

We are also unlikely to hear much about the fact that black Americans are seriously over-represented among our poor.

An Associated Press article in Business Week was published the same day as Governor McDonnell’s editorial on building a “Commonwealth of Opportunity.” This article clearly outlines the proven statistics regarding the lack of parity among black Americans, as opposed to white and Asian Americans, regarding income, educational achievement and so on.

Quoting from the article, “… black people are still more likely to grow up poor, with 20 percent in poverty, compared with 9 percent among whites. Twenty-nine percent of black children lived in poverty in Virginia in 2010, the study showed. Among Virginia’s black families, 51 percent rent their homes, compared with 27 percent of white families.”

There are indications that welfare programs included structured racism based on assumptions that black Americans are intellectually and culturally unable to compete against other Americans in the open market. This is obviously not true. It is time to conduct a dialogue on these issues and consider changing the programs.

In Suffolk a multiracial, non-partisan coalition is forming to discuss and address these issues through community action. We believe the direct involvement and participation of the poor must be added to the mix of efforts to overcome these important challenges. We believe new ideas and approaches must be developed and applied to overcome these intractable problems in Virginia and America.

Join us in these efforts.

Joseph L. Bass writes on behalf of Suffolk’s Community Action Coalition. Contact him at