Can Bob Johnson Solve the Black Unemployment Crisis?
1 year ago
The BET founder says his "RLJ Rule" is the jobs remedy
Just three months later, though, the entire SBLF program is out of business, having only dispersed $4 billion of the $30 billion available, and two-thirds of the applicants rejected for the funding due to a lot of bureaucratic fumbling.
With small business hiring staggered now, that leads us back to Johnson’s rule, which like the Rooney Rule focuses on black hiring at the senior executive level. By Johnson’s business logic, hiring will start when more black VPs are hired on Wall Street -- a message that thousands of people outside of Wall St. offices right now are surely not trying to hear.
As a billionaire executive himself, though, we can trust Johnson when he said to Blackvoices.com, “Right now, when jobs at that vice president and above level come up, the senior VP or president goes out to dinner, maybe the golf course, and mentions, ‘We are looking for a VP of this or that, … Before you know it, someone mentions a name, the job is filled and nobody feels they have done anything wrong.”
There is far more truth in that quote than corporate America would like to admit. Ultimately, what it comes down to in our shrinking work economy for a job-seeking African American holding either a high school diploma or an MBA is access.
Unemployed African Americans are increasingly dependent on only a few businesses that are capitalized to do hiring, which is far from a perfect prospect. Businesses aren’t required to drop the nation’s record high black unemployment levels, nor will tax cuts incentivize them to do so. Right now, the code words used by businesses looking for workers are that candidates must have the “right skill sets.” We know right away that excludes the long-term unemployed, too many of whom are black, because the longer out of the workforce, the bigger chance of losing valuable work skills.
Which is why a rule like Johnson’s, as imperfect as it is, might still be needed to force employers to look at those candidates who would normally be looked or picked over.
The imperfections can't be neglected, though. Johnson’s rule suffers from the same drawback as the “Rooney Rule” in that it feeds the top exclusively, and does nothing but hope for the best for entry-level work. It is a “trickle down” theory, and as Kirwan Institute executive director John Powell told Black Voices, “trickle down, as we can all see, does not work.”
That’s not even the worst blemish of Johnson’s proposal. What makes his idea hardest to accept is that it has no teeth. If the “RLJ Rule” were adopted, say employers interviewed black candidates but still hired the guy they know from the golf course? Or worse, what if employers decided not to interview black candidates at all? Since there’s no penalty, there’s no way to enforce this.
So then we’re back to the same issue that many of Obama’s job policies depend on: The goodwill of those with resources to do the right thing, or at least lend a helping hand to the black employment cause. How’s that been working lately?