Donald Trump’s highlighting the devastating situation in many black communities run by Democratic politicians has created a potential problem for Hillary Clinton. In response, the attack dog Paul Krugman has tried to come to her rescue. In a misleading essay last week, Krugman tried to deflect concerns away from the serious problems these communities face by discounting the violent-crime uptick and attempting to shift focus to lead poisoning.
“Donald Trump is still claiming that ‘inner-city crime is reaching record levels,’ promising to save African-Americans from the ‘slaughter.’ In fact, this urban apocalypse is a figment of his imagination; urban crime is actually at historically low levels. But he’s not the kind of guy to care about another ‘Pants on Fire’ verdict from PolitiFact,” he wrote. But the PolitiFact judgment was based only on data through 2014, as others have pointed out.
In 2015, there was an unprecedented 17 percent increase in homicides across the 56 largest cities. Heather Mac Donald has stressed that this increase was likely the result of the pullback of proactive policing policies in response to the post-Ferguson anti-police rhetoric. As the left-leaning Guardian reported, “For nearly a year, Richard Rosenfeld’s research on crime trends has been used to debunk the existence of a ‘Ferguson effect’ . . . Now, the St Louis criminologist says, a deeper analysis of the increase in homicides in 2015 has convinced him that ‘some version’ of the Ferguson effect may be real.” Whatever may have caused this uptick, as the weekly reports from Chicago bring home, it means that black-on-black violent crime is a real scourge of poor black communities.
After dismissing crime concerns, Krugman then raises the issue of lead poisoning. He claims that this is “a partisan issue” because Clinton will end this problem but Trump won’t. Lead poisoning is no longer a serious issue. Since the mid 1990s, the national lead-poisoning rate has dropped precipitously: from 7.6 percent in 1997 to 0.9 in 2007, and then to 0.5 percent in 2013. Over this period, the rate in New York City dropped from over 3.5 percent to 0.3 percent. Thus, Krugman is trying to fabricate a wedge issue while ignoring more serious problems within poor black communities.
One of these serious issues is joblessness among black men. Between 2010 and 2014 for those aged 20 to 34 years old who were not incarcerated, the national jobless rate was almost 40 percent. In many of the larger cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia, it was about 50 percent. While Trump has offered no policies to combat this disgraceful situation, neither has Clinton. For example, she has offered two specific policies to aid working men: raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and increase the earned-income tax credit for single workers without dependent children. While both of these proposals have merit, neither does anything positive for jobless black men.
What holds back Clinton from offering meaningful policies is that it threatens to fracture her relationship with the left wing of the Democratic party. Given the weak work histories and limited skills of many of these jobless men, work-readiness programs and vocational training are the most effective policies to move many of them into the labor force, especially the one-quarter to one-third with criminal-justice histories. My own favored approach is making more use of certificate programs and eliminating some of the blanket restrictions against hiring the formerly incarcerated in many health and educational job categories.
#related#The problem for Clinton, which was also a problem for President Obama when he adopted his Brothers’ Keepers initiatives, is that the left wing of the Democratic party is hostile to virtually any vocational approach. For them, these at-risk young men must have opportunities to gain four-year college degrees so that they can earn decent wages. They should be enrolled in community colleges in courses that will enable them to transfer to four-year colleges. The abysmally low community-college graduate rates do not dissuade these zealots. The power of their vision has forced Clinton to abandon her quite reasonable approach to college education and embrace this four-year college-for-all vision.
Finding realistic policies to combat the high joblessness of young black men is no easy task; there is no silver bullet. But avoiding giving serious attention to the issue because it will cause conflicts with her most liberal allies is no way for Clinton to handle the situation; and for Krugman to manufacture false issues to shift our gaze is even worse.