Idea Theft and Black Unemployment

By Joseph Miller, Esq.

Black unemployment is a symptom of persistent racial discrimination and skills gaps, but competition and trade policies play a role in unemployment that policy makers too often overlook.  Information technology (IT) and intellectual property (IP) theft is a significant threat to U.S. companies’ ability to generate revenue and thereby jobs.  Earlier this week, U.S. Senators Mary L. Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, along with a bipartisan group of 14 other committee members, wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging it to assist 36 state attorneys general in confronting the growing problem of IT and IP theft from U.S. companies by foreign manufacturers.

Some have noted that many African Americans are already grappling with a silent economic depression.  While the nation’s employment picture has slowly improved over recent months to an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in February 2012, the unemployment rate for African-Americans still stands at 14.1 percent, which is up from 13.6 percent in January.  This is significantly higher than the Great Recession peak overall unemployment rate of 10.2% in October of 2009.

The fates of African Americans have been tied to the manufacturing sector since the end of World War II.  John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer of the Center for Economic and Policy Research have noted that manufacturing jobs “built the black middle class after World War II.”  However, between 1979 and 2007, the share of African Americans working in manufacturing fell from 23.9 percent to 9.8 percent.  During the Great Recession’s incipient stages between December 2007 and December 2009, the manufacturing sector experienced a 14.6 percent decline in employment–among 13 service sector industries, only construction experienced a steeper decline in jobs during that period. African-Americans were among those workers who were hardest hit during this period and are now under-represented in manufacturing.

Improving African-American unemployment trends will require a multi-agency effort.  The U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies have already granted a consortium of 10 universities in South Carolina and an HBCU $20 million to develop 37 new online courses in emerging jobs in manufacturing and other key sectors.  While this approach addresses skills gaps, the FTC can do its part by addressing IT and IP theft and ensuring the competitive landscape remains conducive to job growth.

Joseph Miller, Esq. is Deputy Director and Senior Policy Director of the Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC.  More information on Mr. Miller and his work can be found at the Joint Center website.
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