Employment, Poverty, and Education
Most people don't like to hear this, but African Americans in South Carolina carry a burden. If you conduct an age distribution of the percent of the base population by age in South Carolina, you will find the following:
- 40% more of the Black population is under age 17
- 30% fewer Blacks than Whites are between the ages of 50 and 64 (the prime earning power years of any community).
This means that there is less earning power to support the Black community and more kids who need that support.
Unfortunately, the research in this book shows that for a variety of reasons Blacks are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. It also shows that some of the less than average educational achievement by Black youths is linked to their over-involvement with the juvenile justice system. This finding is an important one as our state continues its pursuit of higher educational achievement relative to the rest of the nation. I have often said that education is not only the basis for a good quality of life, but is also a critical driver to creating wealth.
If you look at the distribution of income by education level in the Black versus White community, you’ll see a $10 billion gap in earning power. It is a fact that the number of Whites with bachelor’s degrees in South Carolina is greater than that of Blacks, but if we were to switch the mix of African American education levels with the education levels of Whites, we would close the gap by only $2 billion. I am convinced there are more variables to focus on in order to affect the kind of wealth-enhancing change we need among all races and socioeconomic brackets in South Carolina.
Three other variables immediately come to mind:
- Productivity: In recent years, more jobs in South Carolina were lost due to productivity needs than job losses to China and India put together. We are automating what we do, which requires higher skill in jobs. It’s a demand of the modern economy. We need to work harder at linking our school and college curriculums to the skills required for the increasing productivity being required by business and industry. Our children need to be taught the skills and knowledge they will need to perform in the modern and more knowledge-based economy.
- The changing face of day labor: Hispanics and other ethnic groups are increasingly assuming more of the day labor, construction, and other lower-paid categories of jobs while Black men appear to be displaced from these jobs and unable to move into higher-paying jobs. This, too, has a direct effect on the earning power of the Black community.
- Teen Pregnancy: In the next five years, we will be joined in the African American community by 90,000 new babies. Almost 100,000 new kids will join us. This is a good thing. The bad news is 20,000 of those 90,000 will be born to children. Teen pregnancy is another fundamental driver of below average educational and economic achievement.
So how do we get things done? This publication is a great contribution to dissecting the issues and advancing the dialogue on potential solutions. South Carolina has 100,000 African Americans above the age of 65. There is energy and knowledge there, along with health problems, perhaps, but that is 100,000 people worth of skill and resource to tap into. There are 300,000 African Americans aged 45 to 64. This is a critical age range. How do we touch them and change their economic earning power? We can’t wait 40 years for them to move on. There are 400,000 between the ages of 20 and 44. This is a fundamental core of our state’s workforce. Do we focus our energy there? We also have 150,000 Black teenagers, 150,000 children between 5- and 13-years-old and 100,000 less than 5-years-old. Where do we put the money? Where do we focus? How do we create broad based effort, both Black and White, to deal with these issues?
In my view, the issues facing our state cannot be resolved with just a stand-alone effort by the Black community nor will they be resolved through some edict from the White community. Effective resolution will require broader and more integrated leadership from both Black and White communities, working hand in hand with business and government infrastructure to affect the kind of change we need in order to thrive in the 21st century.
A boss of mine once said, “If you find yourself in a hole, first thing you gotta do is put down the shovel.” Then he said, “After you do that, then start making some ladders.”
We’ve got to put down the shovel of teen pregnancy, put down the shovel of drop-out rates, put down the shovel of losing Black men to the criminal justice system and to HIV/AIDS. Then, we can start building some ladders. And we can do it.
In a 1960 speech, John F. Kennedy said to his audience, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson took exception to this in his 1984 address at the Democratic National Convention saying, “Rising tides don’t lift all boats, particularly those stuck at the bottom.” Who is right? I say both men are. I believe a rising tide can lift all boats if -- and only if -- those boats on the bottom are brought to the surface first. Only then can we, all of us, no matter what our color, move toward what we should be -- a South Carolina that has opportunity for everyone, a place where everyone has the chance for a better life.
You may call my view overly optimistic. But compare our parents’ generation to today’s generation -- our own children. Old beliefs and attitudes die hard, but they are dying. It won’t come easy and it won’t be quick, but we will get there.