African-American unemployment is slightly higher now than it was when President Obama first took office four years ago, and remains at roughly twice the national rate at 14 compared to 7.8 percent. Now that the inauguration buzz accompanying the start of the president’s second term has diminished, leaders such as NAACP President Ben Jealous and Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition are turning a serious eye towards financial perils in the black community.
In a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Jealous said, “…right now when you look at joblessness in this country… White people in this country are doing a bit better. Black folks are doing a full point worse when to comes to [unemployment].
“[S]o with this president having said to us we need to invest in strategies to lift all boats, now that some boats are clearly more stuck, the question is will Congress join him in getting those boats unstuck, too?” Jealous asked.
Given the apparent deadlock in Congress over economic issues, Rev. Jackson is taking an innovative approach to this problem. Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are holding the 16th annual Wall Street Project Economic Summit, kicking off tonight, to focus on creating solutions for black financial advancement that can complement government intervention.
“While our politics are up, and there is a lot of excitement in the air, our economics are down,” Rev. Jackson said during a conference call with theGrio. “We have less access to capital, credit and investment. Our communities are still facing devastating signs of redlining in terms of investment and access to credit.”
The goal of the Wall Street Project Economic Summit, taking place from the evening of January 30 through February 1 at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, is to remove theses obstacles. Through pressuring industry, working politically, and educating the public, Jackson hopes opportunities can be created and accessed that improve the outlook in urban centers.
Guests and honorees of the summit include President Bill Clinton, former New York Governor David Paterson, and legendary music entrepreneur Berry Gordy. In plenary sessions that will begin on the morning of January 31, these leaders and others will tackle challenges as diverse as gun violence, the business of hip-hop, and what can be done to stem the wave of home and church foreclosures.
“There has been a lot of focus on the fiscal cliff, and the debt ceiling,” the civil rights leader lamented. Yet, “we are still looking at abounding poverty, racial disparities, violence, and no plans for the development of the undeveloped.”
Jackson sees the massive loss of black home ownership during the foreclosure crisis as a central component in the destabilization of black communities. ”We have been devastated by the home foreclosures. Our biggest ‘small business’ has been our home,” he said about the recent loss of billions of dollars of African-American wealth. Black-owned car dealerships, funeral homes, banks, insurance companies and other businesses that could have hired local citizens were also lost when the neighborhoods that had supported them dissolved.
For Jackson, it will take the creation of special banks — separate from the system that contributed to the crisis — to make the funds necessary to rebuild urban communities affordable and available.
“We want to talk about building a development bank,” he elaborated about this agenda point. “These urban cities are not going to be brought back on conventional rate loans. You can have long-term, low interest loans that develop our infrastructure, and begin to make something happen.”
Leaders from government including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Rep. Charlie Rangel will be in attendance to discuss this among other ideas to pin point ways to create greater economic parity.
And of course, true to the name of the conference, how more African-Americans can gain access to high-level investment instruments such as hedge funds will be an important theme.
While the summit also promises appearances by luminaries of entertainment including Jamie Foxx, gospel group Mary Mary, and Dionne Warwick, the crux of the conference will be how to put black America on a more positive economic path.
Jackson promises to explore the reasons behind the “unevenness in our economy,” he concluded. “The lack of economic justice is driving this conference.”
To register for the 16th annual Wall Street Economic Summit, visit the event web site, or call (646) 569-5889. The summit will begin this evening, Wednesday, January 30, and continue through February 1, in New York City.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on theGrio at @lexisb.