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When white America catches a cold, the saying goes, black America gets pneumonia. Or in this case, when white America has a recession, black America gets a depression. It was true in the Great Depression, and it’s no less true in the “Great Recession.” It seems counterintuitive that, with the first black president in office, African Americans would be worse off economically. But, as has been made clear over and over again, the election of Barack Obama was not a curative for the nation’s racial ills, or for the economic pre-existing conditions that have turned white America’s recession into black America’s depression.
Lost in the media tsunami after U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden is news that may prove as economically devastating the terrorism bin Laden masterminded. For a lot of Americans, “returning to the private sector” means practicing saying “You want fries with that?”, with a smile. And they’re the lucky ones.
For African Americans, in the midst of an underreported epidemic of unemployment, the prognosis is grim.
More than three quarters of a century ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the “demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally it is the greatest menace to our social order.” He also insisted that he would “stand or fall” by his “refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed.” On the contrary, he said, “we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then take wise measures against its return. I do not think it is the destiny of any American to remain permanently on relief rolls.”
To put people back to work, FDR launched a series of programs designed to protect America’s environment (through the CCC reforestation programs and creation of the shelter belt in the Midwest to bring an end to the Dust Bowl) and build America’s economic infrastructure.