A cursory glance at the economic trends show American jobs are coming back in the wake of the Great Recession. What is more heartening is the fact manufacturing work, which is a bedrock economic foundation to any modern country, is blooming. America's manufacturing industries have been adding disproportionately to the employment recovery. According to the U.S. Labor Department nearly 9 percent of the nation's new hires were in manufacturing. Last month, about one-fifth of the 243,000 net jobs the economy created were in manufacturing. That is a positive trend highlighted by President Obama's a visit to Milwaukee's MasterLock plant in Centre City on Wednesday.
His visit there was a follow-up to the proverbial "shout-out" he gave to MasterLock in his State of Union, which he used to praise the company for bringing much needed jobs back to America. He called it "insourcing." The reverse migration of Masterlock jobs was a long time coming. In the late 90s the company boasted a little more than 1400 jobs at its Milwaukee plant. However a couple of years later, the company opened a plant in Mexico and with that three out of every four jobs at the Milwaukee plant vanished. Since that low point, MasterLock has added about 140 jobs in Milwaukee but the plant is nowhere near where it was in 1997.
That slow crawl back is a reminder of the struggles of Milwaukee's black male's seeking work, any work, to sustain themselves.
In the 1960s when Milwaukee was a bustling industrial city, some 80-percent of working aged black males were working. But times changed.
According to a University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee study today just 45-pecent of black males are working. To highlight the dire straits of black men in that city, that same study concludes 77-percent of white men in Milwaukee have a job.
So while MasterLock and its mostly white male workforce basks in the glow of a visit by the President of the United States, black men who live in the community surrounding the plant continue to be locked out of opportunity and no one seems to possess a key to open the gates.
The surrounding neighborhood around MasterLock's success story is being strangled by a 40-pecent poverty rate. The number of people shipped off to prison more than doubled during the decline in its workforce.
The dilemma for Milwaukee's black men is partly due to their low high school graduation rate; partly due to their high incarceration rate; and partly due to the lack of jobs a young man with desire but no education could obtain.
The days of getting by through sweat and skill of hand have long passed and Milwaukee has to fix its dismal education system and create better job training and prison prevention measures to fix the core of its problem if the city known more for Happy Days than its current ones is going to turn the corner to this crisis.
I suppose no one can fault President Obama for wanting to spend his time inside the buzzing and humming walls of MasterLock and ignoring the plight outside of men who look more like him than those he surrounded himself with for a few hours.
That wasn't the narrative he wanted to project in a re-election year. To spend a moment with those on the outside looking in would have taken away from his focus of the day which was the Recovery is taking hold.
But while that may be a good re-election plan, it does little to put Milwaukee's black men back to work. What these men need is someone to create the institutional factors for them to get a foot in the employment door. What these men need is a self-induced motivation to succeed despite their economic plights. What these men need is someone to pay attention to their problems and not ignore them for the sake of a better story. Unfortunately until someone like the first African-American President decides to pay attention that door will forever be unlocked.
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