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Jobs, Not Same-Sex Marriage, Paramount Issue for African Americans
Published on Monday, April 11, 2005 by Working for Change
Jobs, Not Same-Sex Marriage, Paramount Issue for African Americans
Is GOP attempting divide-and-conquer attack on black churches?
by Byron Williams

I admit that cynicism often influences my writing. Take the same-sex marriage debate, for example.

I don't doubt there are well-intentioned individuals who believe that legalizing marriage between same-sex couples would somehow ruin the country's moral values. But I have struggled to understand the vehement opposition displayed by a number of African Americans, especially members of the clergy.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., the pastor of the Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md., paraphrases Newt Gingrich to promote a "Black Contract With America on Moral Values," the top priorities of which include opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

"Historically when societies have gone off kilter, there has been rampant same-sex marriage," Jackson said.

His unsubstantiated take on history notwithstanding, my cynicism leads me to conclude such efforts are more dubious than Jackson would have us believe.

Suppose, hypothetically speaking of course, groups in opposition to same-sex marriage solicited a number of black clergy with the lure of faith-based dollars from the federal government to align with their efforts.

This could accomplish three things: First, it would divide the most important institution within the African-American community. Second, it could spawn more African-American support for the Republican Party. Third, it would keep the focus on an issue that does not impact African Americans in a substantial way, while ignoring those -- such as the economy -- that may have a direct impact on many churches that have taken up the same-sex marriage crusade.

A recent employment report by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington reveals an alarming hiring trend within the African-American community.

A comparison of current conditions and those of the early 1990s indicated that African Americans are doing worse than others in this recovery and are faring worse than they did during the 1990s recovery.

The overall unemployment rate for white jobseekers fell by 0.4 percentage points in the first three years of the early 1990s recovery. The rate fell slightly faster, by 0.6 points, for African Americans.

According to the report, "this relationship is the long-held historical pattern for minorities, as their employment opportunities tend be more responsive than whites to changes in economic conditions (e.g., minority unemployment rates tend to worsen faster in a downturn and improve more quickly in an expansion, whereas white rates tend to be more stable)."

In this most recent recovery, however, the opposite pattern has been true. The overall unemployment rate is down slightly, as is the white unemployment rate. But the unemployment rate for African Americans is up by 0.8 percentage points overall, driven by the 1.4 point increase for African-American men. By the first quarter of 2005, the overall African American unemployment rate was 10.6 percent, while the overall rate was 5.3 percent.

It seems to me that an unemployment rate among black men that is twice that of the national average is a far greater moral concern than taking to the streets to oppose same-sex marriage.

The consistent increases in hiring indicate that the jobless recovery may be a thing of the past.

But the labor market for African Americans tells a different story.

While the president's fundamentalist surrogates fan the flames of myopic morality, the EPI report suggests African Americans, especially those on the margins, are being consumed in the combustion of an economy that indicates some job growth but not for them.

How can the trends cited in the EPI report be ignored, while economic policies that disproportionately tilt toward the wealthiest segment of society are promoted?

I wonder if the preachers in question have given much thought to this.

I am willing to bet they have more members within their congregations concerned about jobs than same-sex marriage.

To correct Bishop Jackson on one matter, historically the divide between rich and poor (see French and Bolshevik revolutions) has done more to throw societies off kilter than same-sex marriage.

Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, California.

© 2005


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