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As we bask in the ascension of President Obama to his second-term, it’s easy to feel positive and giddy about the future of this country and black people’s possibilities in it.

Especially since a Mitt Romney victory would have meant a Tea Party takeover and four years of backlash for us even daring to use our vote to elect a president who shattered their notions of superiority.

But now, it’s time to get back to reality. And right now, the reality for black people in this country, when it comes to economic prosperity, is bleak.

Black unemployment is at 13.8 percent – nearly double that of whites. According to The Washington Post, a group of scholars who convened at Howard University recently basically said that the recovery is passing black people by; the black-white wealth disparity is 20 to 1 and fewer blacks own homes.

Some of the scholars said that targeted, large scale efforts, like public jobs programs, are needed to combat persistent black unemployment. Others said that institutional racism remains a problem for most black people when it comes to getting jobs.

Me, I think the problem is a lot more complicated than that. And unless we grasp what much of the real problem is – job-killing technological advances – then it’s  bound to worsen in a big way.

The Associated Press just completed an investigation that was enlightening as much as it was depressing. What it found was that millions of middle-class jobs – think store sales clerks, meter readers and assembly line workers – are being replaced by technology.

Customers no longer have to deal with rude, sour-faced cashiers at supermarkets, because many stores now have kiosks where customers can scan their own items.

Trains can now run without conductors, and whole employment categories, like secretaries and receptionists, are disappearing.

If you order clothes and goods over the Internet, well, there goes a sales person’s job.

So what that means is that we’re now in a world in which it won’t be enough to be able-bodied, because computers are taking those jobs. And computers don’t need lunch breaks or union concessions.

They also don’t need to be told everything to do because they’ve been programmed to know what to do.

Even the scientists who are developing the technology are cringing at the thought that it is developing too fast for workers to keep up with, and that it could continue to lead to persistent, high unemployment.

I cringe too.

I cringe when I see black children growing up in households with no books and computers, and struggle to read children’s books at ages when they ought to be reading young adult fiction. I cringe when schools scrimp on teaching science and math and the critical thinking skills they will need to adapt as technology continues to change and make everything that they once knew obsolete.

And I especially cringe at all the misguided solutions – like charter schools and voucher schools run by people who care more about profiting from the desperation of poor, black parents – being directed toward this problem.

But even with all the uncertainty, there’s hope.

Besides demanding an education that prepares our children for a realistic future – few of them are going to be Beyonces and LeBrons – we have to insist on access to lifelong education that helps us all to keep up with a market being reshaped by technology.

A 2011 study by the McKinsey Global Institute, in fact, claims there will be a demand for workers with a post-high school education, and that employers are having trouble filling jobs that require technical skills.

According to Forbes, such jobs include information security analysts, web developers, mechanical engineers and online ad managers, as well as human resources and labor relations managers.

A large-scale public jobs program might help many black unemployed regain the footing to start over. But I also believe that more efforts should be targeted toward preparing both black adults and youths to compete for jobs in a world that will need fewer workers who only know how to follow orders, and more who can think and adapt.

Because there’s no falling back on working at McDonald’s now – and if things keep going the way they’re going, pretty soon robots will be taking people’s orders.

And there’s not a whole lot that the president can do about that.

Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at

(Photo: AP)

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11 thoughts on “A Bleak Future For the Unprepared

  1. Black people are shy of mentioning immigration, both legal and illegal, as another cause of the unemployment problem — for fear of sounding racist. Yet there needs to a moratorium on legal immigration (with a few exceptions such as when one marries a foreigner) and repatriation of illegals. Immigration hurts the working poor, including black and Hispanic American citizens. It benefits America’s corporation and upper middle class. Why train African-Americans to be computer programmers when you can import programmers en masse from India (look around in the San Francisco Bay Area)? Blacks with exceptional education and talent will out-compete any one, as will whites. But we do need to protect the lower end for all Americans, white and black and Hispanic and Asian and whatever. They should not be undercut by cheap Mexican/Central American laborers, or by H1B workers from India and China. Believe me, anyone with a two-year post high school training can write C/C++ or Java code!

  2. apprxam on said:

    Excellent article. Very rare to see one in which the choices made by those who are also under this type of stress is mentioned.

    Since the 2008 Recession, states and local governments have been cutting budgets and jobs of which many Blacks are employed. President Obama had tried to start infrastructure projects with a Democratically controlled congress and had to cut back drastically. Much of that money is gone and the GOP has been in the mood to spend on more. In fact, the Republicans and the tBaggrZ have been on the war path regarding state and union workers.

    Even when able to budget for these jobs, White control of local and state budgets excludes Blacks for that of whites in every state. The president can only fund projects, nor micro manage hirings. He can even demand and enforce such a demand. Clinton tried and failed. He then set up community based “Empowerment Zones” in places like Harlem and Detroit and the money was wasted by mismanagement and poor uses by Black managers appointed by mostly Black boards.

    Jobs are nice when funded, but the people locally must know what to do and how to do it in order to protect themselves. The president has a country to run.

    One thing, Ms. Weathersbee. The swipe at charter schools struck me as strange. I don’t see public school teachers and administrators doing their jobs for free, so why question the monetary motives of one and not the other? As for vouchers, all admits that the public schools are failing, so why the anger at parents wanting an out? How must anyone wait for things to Improve?

  3. Thomas on said:

    Ms. Tonyaa your article was correct and to the point. The problem we have in the AA community is there are too many ass kissers of the Obama administration and not enough ass kickers to get him to focus on our issues. He continues to put AA at the back of the bus while being elected with over 95% of our support. He has used and abused the AA community for the Homosexual and Lesbian mafia which control his agenda. Now the Hispanics are demanding things from him with only 77% support. Maybe Black people need to wake up and start giving away 25% of our vote to the Republicans to hedge our bet. It cant be any worst then what we are getting from the Democrats in office.

    • apprxam on said:

      Hilarious!  Not an ounce of self examination. “Everyone else is at fault!”

      So the “Magical Black man” in the White House must fix decades, if not centuries, of pathology and history with a wave of his hand.  Or is it smaller than that, Thomas.  Maybe you’re  P.O.ed because you can’t get his attention, like Tavis and Cornel, and this angers you as well.

      Where have you been for the last four decades?  Do you think all of this began in 2009 under his watch?  Exactly what is it you suggest he do for Blacks?   Come to your picnic or backyard card game?

      All this petty whining with no concrete solutions is a reminder as to why things have gotten so bad and that there are no solution ahead, except to leave geniuses like you behind.  

      One huge reason our children fail is because the adults around them fail to grasp the true causes, which are local, and failure to take agency themselves.  Not wait for Jesse or Al to fix from on high, or God’s grace or the Black Messiah in the Oval Office.  The very fact that mentions his name makes you the problem, Thomas.

      You’re free to dislike Obama and his supporters.  But next time, know a little bit about what you’re talking about.  This article is about grown people being out paced by the job market.  The president, not even the Black one, can fix the p*ss-poor, life-long choices of grown people.

  4. Cindy Cruz on said:

    Our bleak future is the policies from an economic ignoramus who chose a Keyensian government stimulus model to fix the economy that has failed for everyone who has tried it from Hoover & FDR to the Greeks and Japanese? Worse still he’s learned nothing from his failure and insanely wants to stay the course this President has created that include the failed stimulus, tax increases, healthcare takeover.

  5. Cindy Cruz on said:

    Great… We have Tonyaa blaming our Presidents abymsmal economic performance on Technology. Lets face it… things have gotten worse for minorities by every measurement these past four years.

    • Thomas on said:

      Cindy as a Hispanic you guys are getting what you want from the President with 77% support. Blacks supported the man 95% and cant get a word from him.

    • actually things were pretty bad for minorities 4 years ago, as a matter of fact things were pretty bad all over 4 years ago. So to say things have gotten worse than a near complete financial meltdown is a bit of a stretch. I will say in relation the premise of the article, I think they are correct in that those industries that supported recoveries in the past are slowly being taken away by technological advances which is really a good thing. the downside of that is the jobs of the future do require higher levels of thinking and problem solving, and teamwork. See all the political talk about President’s and whatever is a smoke screen to mask the real issue… We’ve all got to be better, smarter, more focused, and we can never stop learning because if we do we’ll be left on the side of the road, and in the end it’s no one’s fault but yours…

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