Ras Olugbenga

Africans, African-Americans, & Structural Unemployment

Ras Olugbenga
Africans, African-Americans, & Structural Unemployment

 

Structural unemployment occurs when there is a mismatch between the skills of unemployed workers and the jobs available, stemming from a significant decrease in labor demands. A negative correlation exists between employee position vacancy and corporate profits. Waning revenue generation feeds the lack of labor demands, as companies simply must downsize operations to stay viable. Furthermore tight resources increase the urgency of efficient labor and the subsequent introduction of new industrial technology will have the reverberating effect of displacing more workers. Many blue chip corporations are designed to perpetually increase their profit margins; better workers means less workers. Efficient labor is integral to capitalism, while a cache of employable workers is essential to a free market system. Historically the best laborers worked in a mechanistic fashion, which explains the move towards technologically based labor. In a quantitative sense, machines produce more efficiently than humans. In a qualitative sense, machines are unable to strike for higher wages. Anecdotally, uploading new software is much more cost efficient with predictable and measurable outcomes, as opposed to paying for degrees and certifications for more skilled labor.

Structural unemployment, especially for African-Americans has been a recurring theme in the quest for socioeconomic advancement. Marketplace and industrial shifts due to: 1) technology, 2) geography, and 3) competition have consistently placed African-American workers at a structurally unemployable disadvantage . Beginning in the 1920’s through the 1930’s, agriculture production and its adjoining industries employed many African-Americans. During this same timeframe the majority of the African-American population resided in the southern region of the USA, as many families chose to remain in the south after chattel emancipation. The technological shift to automated agriculture production along with the concurrent manufacturing boom in Northern states, motivated many African-Americans to move for the prospect of prosperity .

During the 1950’s and 1960’s farm labor had all but disappeared, giving way to dominance of the USA automotive industry, spurred during World War II. Although African-American men were often paid less than their European-American counterparts, many African-Americans were able to achieve gainful employment to provide for their wives and children. Inductively, however, technological advancements and globalization served to displace automotive laborers . Moreover, during the 1970’s America had begun to shift from predominantly industrial labor to service labor. Less emphasis was placed upon manual skills along an assembly line, while more value was given to effective communication and actionable knowledge.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It marked a shift from industrial & service labor dominance to knowledge labor dominance.  Although early proponents of the NAFTA projected substantial job creation, in 2004 (10 years after signing) one million jobs had been lost . The goal of NAFTA was to increase trade among the USA, Canada, and Mexico by eliminating taxes on certain classes of goods. Additionally, the agreement sought to encourage cross-border corporate investment. Although USA corporations saw gains in their profits by establishing manufacturing hubs in foreign lands, the USA workers at the base of these companies saw a decrease in real wages as their Mexican labor counterparts were willing to work for lower wages which drove the price of labor down tremendously. Many Americans experienced chronic unemployment as the industries have yet to return to American soil. Around the same time period the real estate bubble burst and many of the remaining manual labor jobs were cut dramatically with the waning construction industry. Many unemployed construction laborers opted to pursue employment in alternative industries, but because of their undervalued skill-set many became underemployed or remained unemployed. It is noteworthy that the cost of a college education has doubled since 1990 . The option to pay for specified training, a labor certification, or college degree for more lucrative employment is simply out of reach for many unemployed people that are already financially sparse.

Conservatives often postulate that affirmative action mandates are bolstering African-Americans to new success levels. Studies show that affirmative action quotas largely are geared toward the more educated individual. Thus affirmative action does not adequately address the issues of displaced industrial and service laborers. An addendum to this point is that as more African-Americans and more European-Americans receive college degrees, the inundation of qualified candidates lowers the pressure on company’s to hire. Job vacancies are trending to stay open longer. In 2009 it took an average of 25 days to fill a position, in 2014 it took and average 23 days to fill a position. As it stands, the structural unemployment for African-Americans is due to a compounding effect of all three factors – technological displacement, labor competition, and geographic infeasibility.

When did enslaved Africans become Americans? Why are their descendants commonly known as “African-American” or “Black”, and not simply “African”?  Colloquially and in scholarly milieus it is often asserted that somewhere between the years of 1619 and 1865, Africans in America were no longer African, but assumed a bastardized role in global society. WEB DuBois postured in his famed “double consciousness theory” that Africans in America were neither exclusively African nor American but were a unique manifestation of the bifurcation of cultural histories.  Antebellum America’s cruel and indignant ostracizing of Africans is a clear indicator that the United States was not the germane origin of the African. But with generation upon generation forced to endure chattel enslavement, pieces of the ancestral African heritage was lost. The deliberate dehumanization of chattel enslavement, commodification of culture via minstrels, and the ubiquitous suppression of the African spiritual nature were catalysts in the development of a unique piece-mealed identity for the African in America. Conversely, just as America had forced its culture on the African, the Africans were able to retain strands of traditional African culture and inadvertently contributed to molding the culture of contemporary American society.

African-American culture encompasses a holistic way of life including: worldview, religion, music, dance, and other forms of art. “African- American” culture as it is known today, is an amalgamation of African, European, and indigenous American (commonly known as Native Americans) culture. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima explored this cross-cultural intersection, and more importantly the influence of African culture on proto-American culture. In an effort to substantiate the Weiner theory, Dr. Van Sertima provided evidence of the existence and influential presence of Africans in America when the land mass was still known as “the new world” to feudal European nations.  Just as Africans had built civilizations along the Nile River of Egypt, they had done the same along the Mississippi River. A man born of African heritage and European heritage founded a port city along Lake Michigan. The area was called “Eschikagou” by the Indigenous Americans, a word that meant “stinking onions”.  This man was Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable and the city later became known as Chicago, one of the premier trading posts in the world.  The story of the founding of Chicago is a unique example of the cross section between African, Indigenous American, and European culture. Furthermore there has been a seamless and continual pattern of influence on American culture at large.

The aforementioned systemic dehumanization of Africans was aided by removing the African from a 12 million mile landmass with history and culture.  The posterity of enslaved Africans should be rightfully deemed “Africans in America”.  Some may posit the argument that Africa is not a monolithic country but a vastly complex continent with many ethnic groups with corresponding mores and languages. But taking into consideration that enslaved Africans familial histories and cultures were deliberately stripped during chattel enslavement,  a resounding choice was made to deal with the Black African as a whole, as one single people tied together by landmass, history, and overlapping cultural aspects.  In 2010, census data showed that African immigrants, per capita are the highest educated demographic in the USA. Almost half of the Africans that migrate to America have attained a college diploma. These highly skilled Africans that voluntarily come to America are migrating for the very same reason Africans were historically kidnapped and brought to America – skilled labor. Due to a shift in international aid allocation in the 1980’s, many Universities throughout Africa experienced the loss of highly qualified professors to American and European post-secondary education institutions. This trend of highly educated Africans to America is still prevalent because many African economies cannot compete with American wages, thus they have been losing talent at an egregious rate, commonly known as the “brain drain” of Africa. Roughly half of the 8% of “Black” students attending Ivy League Universities are from African or Caribbean countries. Thus the African immigrant population represents a high yielding segment in terms of skill and labor benefits.

The African presence in America is unique because they holistically have continued to contribute, whether intentionally or unintentionally,  to the cultural tapestry and economic development of the nation. African immigrants in America are just as much African-Americans as the so-called Black American. Long ago America chose to deal with the African as a single continental group and not factions within a larger group.