By Hakim Hazim and Charles Holmes, Jr.
What is happening to the great, thriving blue collar cities of America is more than tragic. It reveals a systemic pattern of benign neglect that strips away the chance of steady employment from adults and indirectly channels many of our nation’s at-risk youth toward a life of poverty and crime. The future is not bright unless we as a people lay hold of it. Black inner city blue collars are a perishing breed. They followed the instructions of their parents from a previous generation and now they are not sure how to support their children. Their hope has been shattered.
Michael Snyder wrote a prescient article in 2012 titled, “Why Blue Collar Jobs are Disappearing.” His words below capture the trend:
“Big employers will continue to look for ways to replace men with machines, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is another major trend that is also destroying blue collar jobs in America that we should do something about. Right now, it is perfectly legal for big corporations to shut down manufacturing facilities in the United States and send the jobs over to nations on the other side of the globe where it is legal to pay slave labor wages and where there are barely any regulations.”
The Rise of the American City
Blue collar jobs are disappearing at a rapid rate and it may be helpful to look at the past as we look toward the future. America rapidly shifted from an agrarian to an industrial society. Henry Ford’s autobiography “My Life and Work,” includes these words:
“When young Ford left his father’s farm in 1879 for Detroit, only two out of eight Americans lived in cities; when he died at age 83, the proportion was five out of eight.”
The Model T changed the world and the demand for it created countless jobs. As industrialization took root, cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Milwaukee offered a new promise for black families, and they migrated to these places securing work in the process.
The Civil Rights movement also buoyed the success of achieving equal pay rates. Yet, the promise of inner city paradise was short lived. In the upcoming decades since the 1960s, much of the progress made by blues was halted. Inflation, recession, and corporate flight—sending jobs overseas—all played a role in the demise of the industrial city. Today, the hardest hit cities are filing for bankruptcy at an unprecedented rate—stripping them of their capacity to assist their most vulnerable citizens. Government alone is not the answer. Our mindset is part of the solution to the problem.
If You Can, Shift to an Entrepreneurial Mindset
We definitely need to discourage outsourcing and hold our government accountable for policies that have contributed to urban decay. But we, as a people, also need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in our communities. This starts teaching our youth business skills while they are still in school. We also need to teach tenacity in the face of adversity, a character attribute that always works and one that our forefathers learned well. Current and future black business owners would be more likely to invest in urban areas and employ our people. Independent contractors with skin in the game would be relentless in their pursuit of contracts and would be able to demonstrate to others that they too can be successful without an employer.
Many of you reading this may be unemployed or in transition to ownership. If so, remember our journey out of dependency was and remains a long road paved with victims, but we can’t stop now. It’s time to tackle this problem head on. We don’t have to watch passively from the sidelines. When it comes to your own financial security and the poverty rates of our people, being successful in business is no longer an option.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18 print edition.