Blaming Black Men

With support for his Social Security privatization program lagging, President Bush has decided to focus his hard sell on African Americans. Last month, in his pitch, he said: "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group. This needs to be fixed." President Bush has his priorities backwards. The issue that needs to "be fixed" isn't Social Security, it's the troubling statistic that African-American males have a shorter life expectancy than any other ethnic or racial group in America. If President Bush is serious about reaching out to the African-American community, his time would be more wisely spent addressing countless inequalities faced by African Americans in the U.S. today, like unequal access to health care, a higher incidence of unemployment, a disproportionate poverty rate and a higher rate of deadly youth violence. Instead, he has systematically cut programs designed to help combat these very issues.

THE SOCIAL SECURITY MYTH: African Americans depend heavily on Social Security benefits, which would be cut under President Bush's plan. The AARP found African Americans rely on Social Security benefits for about 44 percent of their income in retirement. That number is even higher for African-American women, who are likely to rely on Social Security for 56.8 percent of their income in retirement. On top of that, African Americans are less likely to have income from private assets; thus "Social Security is the only source of income for one in three African Americans over age 65." According to Hillary Shelton of the NAACP, "African-American children are almost four times as likely to be lifted out of poverty by Social Security benefits than our white counterparts."

INADEQUATE HEALTH CARE: African Americans are more likely to suffer from many life threatening diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Also, "African-American men and women have higher incidence of colon, rectal and lung cancer than any other group." And "black women are more likely to die from breast cancer even though white women have a higher incidence of the disease." Much of this problem is due to the inferior access many blacks have to basic health care. Based on the latest Census data, since Bush took office, the number of African Americans without health insurance has jumped by 400,000. More than one in five African Americans is now uninsured. A full "22 percent of black Americans" today rely on Medicaid for their health care. President Bush's new budget would slash Medicaid by $45 billion over the next decade, cutting crucial services and benefits.

PERILOUS POVERTY: Lower-income Americans today are disproportionately black and Hispanic. It's a situation that's gotten worse under President Bush. According to the Census, 300,000 black Americans fell into poverty in 2002, making the poverty level among blacks today a whopping 24.3 percent. While the median income of African-American households was 65 percent of whites' in 2000, it slipped to 62 percent by 2003. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "unemployment among blacks hit a historic low of 7.1 percent in 2000, but has grown to 9.9 percent or higher since January 2002." One of the best ways to combat poverty is employment; President Bush, however, eliminated the Youth Opportunity Grants program, a program that gives job training to young people.

UNHEALTHY COMMUNITIES: Many people of color find attaining the American dream tough to do when tethered to crumbling communities. President Bush, however, has eliminated important programs designed to build up communities. For example, two federal banking agencies headed by Bush appointees are trying to change laws that would cripple the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a civil-rights law prohibiting discrimination by banks against people who live in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Bush also has proposed a 40 percent cut in federal juvenile crime prevention funds.

COMBATING VIOLENCE: In his State of the Union, President Bush said he wanted to give "young men in our cities better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail." In reality, the president has proposed a 40 percent cut in federal juvenile crime prevention funds, which would effectively "pull the plug" on local programs that reduce gang and youth violence.


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