Does voting harm the African American community? Is it a waste of time? The black vote is treasured as an entitlement by Democrats who offer hope for change in election after election, but the outlook for low-income, undereducated African Americans is not improving. Does this mean that the black vote selects the wrong candidates, or have we reached the point that black America is so valuable as a political problem that can never be fixed that the vote drifts to opportunists who do more harm than good?
A new federal report questions the direction that hope is going and casts more doubt on what Obama accomplished for those who helped put him in office.
Black vote brought hope without change
The black vote delivered record numbers in 20081 that were bested in 2012 when 1.7 million more black voters turned out to make their choice.2
Black voters chose Obama. Did they believe that the “hope” in hope and change actually meant something just because their candidate would be the first black president?
It turns out that black voters’ faith in one of their own brought more hope just out of reach. Now they are faced with two new Democratic candidates pandering to attract their vote with promises equally as hollow as what they were handed eight years ago.
A Pew Research poll shows that black optimism climbed steeply after Obama’s election.3 We don’t hear that optimism from African Americans in the House. Even the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus echoed the belief that the low income black community is a work in progress that never ends:
The CBC has been fighting to address not only the racial wealth gap, but also the achievement and opportunity gaps that continue to widen. These gaps pose dire economic consequences for communities of color—we must work to counter these disparities and also to address the school-to-prison pipeline which disproportionately affects African American students. Friends, we have work to do.4
The classroom to prison pipeline should be called the dropout to prison pipeline. Numbers show that not staying in school portends disaster for young black men. The findings on the direction their lives are taking beg the question of whether who gets the black vote even matters.
Federal report: school pays better than jail for young black men
A new Congressional Budget Office report shows that in 2014 an astonishing 33% of young black men* were either jobless or jailed.5 8% were locked up compared to 1% of whites and 3% of young Hispanics.6 For the 35-year period from 1980-2014 these young men were also likely to have only a high school education or less.7
The report should have blamed opportunists who hold on to power by securing the black vote knowing that their political future depends on the problems that plague lower income African Americans. For those who think this too cynical a view, consider the efforts poured into Hispanics and Latinos who reside here illegally. There was no DACA for young black men and no Supreme Court battle waged over Obama orders to secure their future. Instead, they are faced with competition for employment and minimum wage hikes because of conflicting Democratic priorities that helped price their skills out of the market, thanks to a better opportunity for votes from an exploding Hispanic population.
Black vote stands for what?
An addiction to federal spending is an addiction to failure. There is only so much money to go around. Who gets favored is a shrewd calculation, not a favor.
Young men not working or sitting in jail are expensive. They don’t pay taxes. They also soak up public money, as the CBO points out:
Also, they and their families receive more federal benefits-such as benefits from Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [food stamps] – than employed young men and their families do, on average.8
Despite calls to trim spending, SNAP and Medicaid expanded under Obama. He helped encourage a reliance on federal paternalism that goes hand in hand with lawmakers stressing that the problems of the black community are someone else’s fault:
African American men are challenged by many sectors of society. All too often, the vestiges of institutional racism are pervasive in the everyday lives of many black men, impacting upon their successful integration into mainstream American society.9
These comments were made in 2004 by Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush. 12 years and an Obama presidency later, institutional racism is still the rallying cry for the Congressional Black Caucus:
But now six decades later, we have seen public schools seemingly regress back to the segregated state we saw during the Jim Crow era. Overt racism to institutional racism creating structural barriers that have countered the positive impact of the Brown v. Board decision.10
Do the choices made by black voters hold African Americans back?
Speaking about the Voting Rights Act, our president declared:
“To deny this progress, this hard-won progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better,” Obama said.11
We will never know for certain how many young black men fail because of their refusal to accept responsibility for their lives. The men and women who claim to represent them seem happiest falling back on tried and true appeals to dependence, blaming society for ills that will never go away as long as there is a political payoff to making excuses.
The government claims that “Allowing black America to vote made the country feel better.”12 It may have encouraged us to feel better about ourselves, but what has it done for the struggling future of the African American community?
*defined as men ages 18-34
Updated May 26, 2016: photo added.