Presently, the rate of unemployment in the African American community is out of hand. As CLUTCH recently reported, the number of unemployed is nearly 17%, which is about 7 percent higher than the overall population. A total of 26 percent of Black adults are currently unemployed or underemployed, and Black teens are at a staggering 46 percent.
With the Obama Jobs Plan and the accompanying CBC critique in the forefront of Black unemployment resolution, another proposal comes to light, by way of the Wall Street Journal, and claims to offer a solution to a community in despair.
In his article, “How To Fight Black Unemployment” conservative economist Arthur Laffer revives a not-so-new method to providing hope within economically depressed communities: Enterprise Zones.
Also called Urban Enterprise Zones (UEZ), they claim to “encourage development in blighted neighborhoods through tax and regulatory relief to entrepreneurs and investors who launch businesses in the area; where companies can locate free of certain local, state, and federal taxes and restrictions. “*
Laffer states, “Enterprise zones… are desperately needed in our inner cities… Behind these numbers are millions of lives discouraged and despondent. People who’ve lost their self-esteem and pride. The young who have given up on America and some of whom have even turned to crime. Scars are being made across a whole ethnic subset of America.”
According to Laffer, enterprise zones are a win-win solution to both the participating corporations, and the scarred “ethnic subset” that is unemployed African American youth. However, critics of his proposal liken it to introducing a sweat factory into a void of destitution. Laffer elaborates, “Federal and state minimum wages must be suspended in the enterprise zone. If not for all employees, then at least for employees under 30. These young people need on-the-job training, and at the present minimum wage many of them aren’t worth hiring. That is why they are unemployed.”
Not only does the economist appear to offer an excuse for paying young workers next to nothing, Laffer seemingly provides a rationale for overlooking employee safeguards within the corporate zones:
“In the enterprise zones the government should do an expedited review of all building codes, regulations, restrictions and requirements to make sure that they don’t unjustifiably impede economic growth.”
Critics of this concept claim that UEZ’s are neo-colonialism in disguise. Good Magazine’s Cord Jefferson pronounces, “As you can tell, what Laffer is proposing isn’t a solution to black unemployment, but a euphemism for neo-slavery. In enterprise zones, rich companies would benefit from cut-rate black labor under the guise of “on-the-job training.” And because building safety codes and unions would be abolished, the workers would be both powerless against management and working in unsafe conditions. For all their predatory efforts, the companies would be rewarded with huge tax breaks.”
Jefferson’s view represents the perception of Laffer’s vision as exploitative. On the other hand, urban enterprise zone’s may be seen – to some – as a step in the right direction by revitalizing blighted Black communities while providing a much-needed source of livelihood. Perhaps the question of whether the concept is actually mutually beneficial cannot be proved through theory, but through practice.