Race, wages, State of the Union

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Williams autobiography

'Sometimes I sarcastically, perhaps cynically, say that I'm glad that I received virtually all of my education before it became fashionable for white people to like black people," writes Walter Williams in his new autobiography, "Up from the Projects." "By that I mean that I encountered back then a more honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Professors didn't hesitate to criticize me -- sometimes to the point of saying, 'That's nonsense.'"

Mr. Williams, an economist at George Mason University, is contrasting being black and poor in the 1940s and '50s with today's experience. It's a theme that permeates his short, bracing volume of reminiscence, and it's where we began our conversation on a recent morning at his home in suburban Philadelphia.

"We lived in the Richard Allen housing projects" in Philadelphia, says Mr. Williams. "My father deserted us when I was 3 and my sister was 2. But we were the only kids who didn't have a mother and father in the house. These were poor black people and a few whites living in a housing project, and it was unusual not to have a mother and father in the house. Today, in the same projects, it would be rare to have a mother and father in the house."

Even in the antebellum era when slaves often weren't permitted to wed, most black children lived with a biological mother and father. During Reconstruction and up until the 1940s, 75 percent to 85 percent of black children lived in two-parent families. Today, more than 70 percent of black children are born to single women. "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do," Mr. Williams says. "And that is to destroy the black family."

"Racial discrimination is not the problem of black people that it used to be" in his youth, says Mr. Williams. "Today I doubt you could find any significant problem that blacks face that is caused by racial discrimination. The 70 percent illegitimacy rate is a devastating problem, but it doesn't have a damn thing to do with racism. The fact that in some areas black people are huddled in their homes at night, sometimes serving meals on the floor so they don't get hit by a stray bullet -- that's not because the Klan is riding through the neighborhood."

[Williams] adds, the tea party movement is a positive development in our politics and long overdue. "For the first time in my lifetime -- and I'm approaching 75 years old -- you hear Americans debating about the U.S. Constitution," he says. "You hear them saying 'This is unconstitutional' or 'We need limits on government' -- things that I haven't heard before. I've been arguing them for years, but now there's widespread acceptance of the idea that we need to limit the government."

[Williams] adds: "A historian writing 100 or 200 years from now might well say, 'You know, there was this little historical curiosity that existed for maybe 200 years, where people were free from arbitrary abuse and control by government and where there was a large measure of respect for private property rights. But then it went back to the normal state of affairs.'"

"You find more and more black people -- not enough in my opinion but more and more -- questioning the status quo," [Williams] says. "When I fill in for Rush, I get emails from blacks who say they agree with what I'm saying. And there are a lot of white people questioning ideas on race, too. There's less white guilt out there. It's progress."

Excerpts from a column by

Jason L. Riley that appeared in the Jan. 22 Wall Street Journal

Really cool ... worked for me

This year we will experience four unusual dates: 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11 and 11/11/11. Now go figure this out. Take the last two digits of the year you were born plus the age you will be this year and it will equal 111.

Minimum wage

The unemployment burden falls mostly on young workers and people with few skills. The minimum wage affects a lot of employees younger than 25, who constitute about half of the minimum wage workforce. Nineteen percent of teenagers who received hourly wages earned the minimum wage or (by dint of working in agriculture or a family business) less than that minimum. Only 2 percent of full-time hourly workers earn the minimum wage or less. The minimum wage, in other words, makes youngsters unemployable, but it also reduces the ability of older, full-time breadwinners to support a family.

Between 2007 and 2009 the federal minimum wage increased by 41 percent, from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. The consequences have been disastrous: Approximately 98,000 jobs -- a 6.9 percent reduction in employment among 16- to 19-year-old workers in the states affected by all three stages of the federal minimum-wage increase -- have been lost. Broadening coverage to the 32 states that were affected by some portion of the increase, the three-stage minimum-wage increase cost 114,000 teen jobs.

You can see the effect in official employment data. The latest government stats show an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent among adult males and 7.9 percent among adult females. The teenage unemployment rate, however, is 26 percent. Unemployment for black teens is 40 percent. The "underemployment rate," which includes discouraged workers and part-time workers who would like to have full-time work, is 16.5 percent. (Gallup puts it at 18.4 percent.) Removing labor market hurdles will reduce these numbers.

Excerpt from a column by Art Carden, assistant professor of economics and business at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn.

Obama's State of the Union

The State of the Union speech took 62 minutes and was interrupted by applause too many times (80 times). I took notes so I could list (Cliff or Spark notes style) the most important action items. There were not very many.

But I recommend that you (whether you heard the speech or not) read the text of the speech. You can do this in about 18 minutes (we have the text at semissourian.com or you can Google it).

Underline the parts you feel are significant and tell how or what actions are recommended. I agree with Charles Krauthammer, who said it "was a weak speech." But you need to spend 18 minutes to decide for yourself.

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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