How the Sequester Crosses the Color Line

The current budget crisis is just another example of an issue that hurts people of color.

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Without that stimulus, 27 weeks of unemployment became 52 weeks. And underemployment has long been the Achilles' heel for black labor. Once unemployed, African Americans are less likely to find jobs, and they stay unemployed much longer. In 2011, blacks experienced a median duration of unemployment of 27 weeks, compared with 19.7 weeks for whites and 18.5 weeks for Hispanics.

As periods of unemployment extend, gaining viable employment becomes more difficult. Applicants may lack the resources, connections and income support to even pursue opportunities. And employers often consider credit scores and last date of employment as screens for job candidates, placing an added burden on those already at a disadvantage.

The Center for American Progress finds that sequestration will disproportionately affect communities of color and deepen underemployment. From cuts in extended unemployment benefits, workforce-development programs and educational programs like Head Start, blacks will feel the pinch more firmly.

For those whose families rely on programs like WIC -- designed to aid children and mothers -- $543 million could be lost, affecting the 450,000 people of color on assistance. Likewise, since 2010, $2.5 billion has been cut from housing-assistance programs like Section 8, which aids the poor and elderly. Data from 2008 showed that 44 percent of those recipients were black.

Though political operatives on both the left and right agree that America's military budget is bloated, the defense cuts as outlined in the sequester will disproportionally affect minorities, since defense jobs largely involve government workers. The looming cuts of $85 billion in this budget year alone will fall mainly at the state level, constricting public-sector employment even more.

This is President Obama's catch-22: trying to deliver on campaign promises to his most loyal supporters while fielding a Republican opposition indifferent to his constituency. As the GOP fights to protect tax loopholes for the wealthiest, the black and brown voters the party lost in the last election suffer as a kind of quiet retribution. And as the systemic nature of unemployment, underemployment and discrimination creates a 21st-century underclass, neither political party has the courage to discuss the issue in black and white.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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