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Create 9,000 jobs: One remedy for many social ills

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Robert Elder

Robert Elder
Guest Columnist

Three daunting issues face the City of Wilmington and Delaware which, if not confronted, will consign each of them to an unending downward spiral of economic and social destruction. They are:

  • Run-away crime which has already brought Wilmington an unwanted title nationally
  • A less-than-mediocre performance record in public education
  • An insolvent financial condition

The effects of all of these have combined to produce a national shunning of Delaware and Wilmington as a place for out-of-state businesses to locate, or for that matter for existing businesses to even want to stay here. Our leaders tell us that the answers are simple: hire more cops, get better teachers and build new schools, and tax an already overburdened and shrinking tax base even more. Really smart.

Here is the real answer:

CRIME: Create jobs for 9,000 unemployed black men in Wilmington.

These men have already lost all hope of ever finding a job. There is nothing in their refrigerators, there is no rent money, there is no place to go and nothing to do. So they do what you and I would do just to get their next meal. They turn to the streets and they “hustle.” Ask any one of them if they would trade that life for a job with a career and they will all tell you “in a New York minute.” So crime would plummet.

SCHOLASTIC PERFORMANCE: Create jobs for 9,000 unemployed black men in Wilmington.

The child of an unemployed black man in Wilmington may not even know she has a father. He is not in the home. Without even the hope of a job her father has lost all his self-respect and sense of self- worth. He knows his children don’t respect him and he knows he can’t even provide them with dinner. So he doesn’t show up. So this child goes to bed without dinner. She didn’t do her homework because there is constant turmoil in the house. She doesn’t sleep well and when she wakes up breakfast is a bag of potato chips. So she puts on yesterday’s clothes and walks to school through a war zone. And she too has absolutely no self- respect. If she gets to school she places herself in the charge of an overburdened and much-maligned teacher who knows that child is anything but ready to learn.

But today she must take a standardized test, the outcome of which will determine how her teacher and her school are regarded competitively in Delaware. All this would be different if her father had a job with a career and would be in the home, together with her mother, and nurture his daughter the way a Greenville father does. The scholastic performance of the child’s school district would contribute to a much higher state average. The teacher is not the problem.

WILMINGTON AND DELAWARE’S FINANCIAL CONDITION: Create jobs for 9,000 unemployed black men in Wilmington. 

Take a look at the budget of either Wilmington or Delaware and you will see, on the expense side, an ever-increasing level of transfer payments for welfare, Medicaid, unemployment, etc., which have absolutely no productive outcome. Most of this is to support people without incomes. Now take a look at the revenue side and you will see a constantly dwindling revenue base to support these transfer payments.

If 9,000 unemployed black men had jobs they would come off the public dole, thereby lessening the expense side, and broadening the tax-paying revenue base thereby helping to eliminate Wilmington’s and Delaware’s apparent insolvency.

Wilmington is sitting on a powder keg and to not do something about it right now is to bring a lighted match closer and closer. How long would you expect these men to wait? How long should they? There is no coherent argument against the theory that by providing 9,000 unemployed black men in Wilmington jobs we could solve the above three issues and thereby make Wilmington once again “A Place to Be Somebody”.

The question: How? Here’s how:

Government can provide a limited hand in facilitating a solution and then step back and get out of the way and let private industry take over. One way to do this is for government to proclaim Wilmington to be an “Enterprise Zone,” free to invent its own economic rules and waive others. Then Wilmington devises a package of economic incentives, exclusively for those businesses willing to come in and hire 9,000 unemployed black men.

These incentives have to be creative and powerful. But they need to be so powerful that private industry is induced to do the job. We did this at the state level in the 1980s when government came up with the Financial Centers Development Act (FCDA) and private industry made Delaware the undisputed domain of the credit card industry.

On Feb. 25 at the Baby Grand Theater you will be able to see the premiere of a play titled “Black Jobs Matter, A Wilmington Experiment” by Gregory Lloyd Morris. Before he became an acclaimed playwright Greg was involved with one of the largest production, distribution, marketing, and collection enterprises in Los Angeles: a street gang. He is the living example of the potential of every unemployed black man in Wilmington – talented, bright, industrious, creative, and driven to achieve.

Holding a master’s degree in fine arts, Greg teaches at the college level and writes and produces plays and films on life in the “Hood” and he lives here in Wilmington. In his play, written just for Wilmington, you will see actors right off the streets of Wilmington give a graphic portrayal of real-life experience woven into a compelling story of why all of us must throw away our petty prejudices and together make Wilmington “A Place For Everybody to Be Somebody.”

Black jobs matter.

Robert Elder, a former president of two Delaware banks, is marketing director of the Santora CPA Group. He served as a U.S. Navy officer in the Vietnam War, and has remained active in civic leadership.

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