All Livelihoods Matter

When examining the challenges facing the black community in America, the conservative response—if they have the courage to respond at all—is to attack the policies Democrats have implemented supposedly to help blacks.

This is a valid response, which can be summarized as follows:

Increased spending in public schools is futile because Democrats have taken away the ability to discipline disruptive students, and the teachers union has monopolized public education. For example, instead of being fired, thanks to these unions, bad teachers end up teaching in low income communities. Public education is a disaster in black communities.

Welfare spending has taken away the necessity for households to have a male breadwinner, and hence, a male role model and authority figure. This has disproportionately impacted black families because a higher percentage of them collect welfare and other entitlements. Two-thirds of black children are growing up in single-parent households.

There are other reasons conservatives may cite, centering around the theme of personal and community accountability. Why aren’t more black conservatives stepping up and demanding school choice, family values, and collective rejection of gang culture? And why isn’t the media elevating those black conservatives who do speak out, instead of pointing the cameras at the same old Sharptonesque hacks, year after year?

These responses explain a lot, and deserve to be heard, but there’s another factor at work affecting black lives in America, and it’s also mostly the fault of Democrats.

The Democratic Attack on Black Lives and Black Livelihoods

Between 1916 and 1970, in what is called the Great Migration, more than 6 million blacks moved from the rural South to the cities of the North, Midwest, and West. This was a time of rapid industrial expansion in the United States, and high-paying factory jobs attracted workers of all races. During the period after World War II until about 1970, America’s economy dominated the world. Millions of black workers were able to afford homes and raise families. But three things happened to change that starting in 1970.

First, the world caught up with the United States. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United States was the only industrialized nation that wasn’t devastated. As foreign manufacturers were slowly rebuilding atop the ashes, American exports poured into recovering markets all over the world. America’s labor unions enjoyed unique leverage during this time, because management could afford to negotiate excellent wage and benefit packages for the workers and yet still make a profit.

Starting around 1970, all of that changed. Japan, then the “Four Tigers” of Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and now dozens of nations including Brazil, India, Indonesia and heavyweight China are all competing with American manufacturers. 

Which brings us to the first great betrayal by Democrats: They joined with their Republican counterparts to adopt the gospel of “free trade,” heedless of the consequences. This began slowly, but by the Clinton years, the Democrats were indistinguishable from the Republicans. Good jobs went away, lost to cheap labor overseas. White and black workers alike suddenly found themselves working harder and making less, if they had jobs at all.

The second trend that attacked black livelihoods, along with the livelihoods of everyone else, was the increase in the cost-of-living. This is probably the least discussed element in the destruction of black livelihoods, along with the livelihoods of everyone in America, but it is perhaps the most important because relative to the other factors, it has just begun. 

The cost-of-living is continuing to rise, despite the fact that productivity is higher than ever. Why is this?

In some areas, such as imported high-tech gear and generic consumer products, costs are declining. This is misleading. For most households, the products that are getting cheaper are nonessential, whereas the cost for essentials like housing and healthcare are soaring. To show why Democrats are to blame for this assault on affordability, consider this excerpt from a California Policy Center analysis evaluating home prices in different parts of the United States:

The median price of a home in Los Angeles is a larcenous $617,000, whereas the same home in Houston will only set a family back by $189,000. Based on a 4 percent, 30-year fixed mortgage, this translates into a crippling $2,900 monthly payment in Los Angeles, [versus] a manageable $915 mortgage payment in Houston. Making house payments that low used to be normal in California. They still are in those parts of this nation, Houston included, where the progressive Democrats haven’t yet taken control.

The Democratic response to poor schools and unaffordable housing is to expand government. Hire more union teachers. Build more government housing. For 50 years, this has been their solution, and the only thing they have to show for it are the highest taxes and spending deficits in history. In recent years, building affordable housing has become more corrupt than ever, with Democrat-run cities spending over a half-million on average per unit of subsidized housing. At those prices, only a fraction of needed housing is built, and only crony developers benefit from the arrangement.

The solutions, which even Republicans usually lack the courage to espouse, are to restore competition in public education, ideally via school vouchers—good for homeschooling, religious schools, private schools, charter schools, and public schools. Break the teachers’ union monopoly. For affordable housing, break the grip of extreme environmentalists who successfully have lobbied for laws in blue states and cities that effectively have cordoned off all development. Allow suburban expansion, spend public budgets on roads instead of pensions, and the market price of housing will come back down to earth.

The Economics of All Lives Matter

One of the saddest betrayals of black and white workers in America is their betrayal at the hands of their unions. 

Arguably, these unions have been too militant about protecting wage and benefit packages and trying to increase them to keep pace with inflation, but ultimately these are tactical battles. 

On the defining strategic issues, however, these unions have betrayed their members. If that betrayal was not evident initially back in the 1970s, it should be by now. These unions have not fought effectively to prevent jobs from migrating overseas, and they haven’t fought at all to prevent an ongoing flood of cheap immigrant labor. On the issue of lowering the cost-of-living, these unions have scarcely recognized extreme environmentalism as a primary reason housing and building materials cost so much, much less tried to challenge it.

When it comes to the livelihoods of middle class and aspiring middle-class people, these overarching trends are having a decisive and decidedly colorblind impact. And the union betrayal goes beyond their failure to address the issues of offshoring, immigration, and environmentalism in a manner consistent with the interests of their members. Instead, they have adopted and supported the entire agenda of the American Left.

Moreover, they utterly fail to recognize that public-sector unions aren’t unions at all. They are government workers using government for themselves over, and sometimes even against, the interests of the public. As a result, private-sector unions support public-sector union monopolies in public education, along with the attendant leftist indoctrination of students on issues of race, gender, economics and American history, and they offer unqualified support for more government spending. This doesn’t do anything to help the members of private-sector unions which, unlike public-sector unions, have a legitimate and vital role to play in American society. Why can’t they be focused on the economic interests of their members, properly understood, and nothing else?

The Black Lives Matter movement, much like the labor movement in America today, is unconcerned with black livelihoods. Or if they are, they are tragically delusional. Black livelihoods will not be uplifted by eliminating whatever vestiges of racism may still exist in America and implementing socialism. They will be uplifted by black and white workers finding common ground within a capitalist framework, working together to reject the agenda of the global Left: offshoring manufacturing, importing cheap labor, and imposing extreme environmentalist laws.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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