Last week Washington lawmakers praised the passage of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, hailing the historic high level of cuts it contains and the fact that they can now turn their attention to making even more cuts in the 2012 budget. Meanwhile, state and local lawmakers back home are trying figure out how to do more with fewer resources and greater numbers of people who because of the economy are relying on various forms of public assistance.
In Cumberland County, North Carolina, home to the HBCU Fayetteville State University and Fort Bragg, one of the nation’s largest military installations, if you don’t work in the health care industry or the military, it’s tough to find a job. Its population is 47 percent Black, and many are unemployed. As is the case around the nation, the Black unemployment rate is around 18 percent—double the rate for whites.
“North Carolina has a serious problem with unemployment. The state was very dependent on textile and tobacco, but the textile industry has gone to Mexico and the tobacco industry in the U.S. has gone down. There aren’t a lot of companies coming to our city to replace those jobs,” said State Sen. Eric Mansfield, who represents the county’s 21st district.
Many of the district’s African-Americans who are now unemployed once worked in the textile industry or at plants owned by manufacturers like Black and Decker that have moved their facilities south of the border. A significant number of young adults have never worked at all.
“If you don’t have a college degree or some vocational education through a community college, there aren’t a whole lot of jobs for you,” Mansfield said.
It's the cuts that Congress' new budget makes to Pell Grant funding and vocational and adult education programs, combined with the state’s 18 percent cut in its education budget, that bother Mansfield in particular, because they hurt the people who need it most.
He also opposes the $942 million the budget cuts from community block development grants, which are used to provide housing for low- and moderate-income families, neighborhood revitalization and disaster assistance. Mansfield and other local lawmakers had planned to use block-grant funding to entice a major grocery store and other big chain stores to invest in the area’s poor, Black neighborhoods, which would have brought jobs. Private-public partnerships are often a way to do that because neither side has to absorb all of the expense on its own. The block-grant money would have enabled the county to offer a financial buffer for private companies for a period while the businesses get established. Now those efforts will end, Mansfield said.
“There is this continuous assault on the poor. All of the services that are for the poor and elderly have been cut,” he added. “There’s this continuous drumbeat: If you don’t have money, don’t take it from the rich, take it from the poor.”