Federal Government Shut-Down Has Disparate Impact on Americas’ Racial and Ethnic Minorities


Members of Congress and the President of the United States have two mandatory jobs they must do: pass a humane budget and pay our nation’s debts. As of midnight on September 30, 2013, Congress failed to fulfill its responsibility to pass a budget representative of the needs of all Americans and send it to the President for his signature.  At the heart of the matter is the fact that a faction of the House of Representatives wants to use a short term budget agreement (a.k.a. a “continuing resolution,” or a “CR”) to delay for at least a year, or fully repeal, the comprehensive health care reform act (a.k.a “The Affordable Care Act,” a.k.a. “Obamacare”).  The Senate, on the other hand, wants a “clean” short term budget, free of policy initiatives, as also supported by the NAACP.  As a result, much of the Federal government has been shut down.  There are also similar debates over priorities in a long-term budget, as well as whether or not to raise the debt ceiling (which is also an issue the NAACP has taken a strong stand in support of through the Resolutions process in 2010).

Like almost every national crises, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately bearing the brunt of this shut down.  Although the shutdown of the federal government is affecting all Americans, a disproportionate portion of the 800,000 furloughed federal workers are African Americans.  This is because until now federal employment has traditionally been viewed as a secure employment sector and a fairly reliable and sustainable road to the middle class.   As a result, while African Americans comprise 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, we make up 17.7 percent of the federal workforce.  Specifically, as many as 150,000 African American men and women are being laid- off and will not be collecting their paychecks.  And although a disproportionate number of federal employees live in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, 78% of federal civilian employees reside outside of the National Capitol area.  Nationwide, the economy stands to lose an estimated $55 billion if the shut down last 3-4 weeks.  Some areas that will be especially hard hit:  the 5 states with the greatest number of African American federal employees outside of D.C, Maryland and Virginia are Texas, California, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Furthermore, many of the programs most deeply affected by the shutdown disproportionately serve African Americans.  For example, Head Start pre-Kindergarten programs, which rely on federal funding, have begun shutting their doors.  According to the program facts, approximately 29% of the children enrolled in Head Start in 2011-2012 were African American. Of the approximately 1,600 programs in the country that are dedicated to offering nutritional, heath, social and other services to low-income families, about 20 programs were affected immediately because their federal grants were not renewed.  Lastly, if the debt ceiling issue is not addressed in a timely and responsible fashion, tens of billions of dollars in social security checks, food stamps and unemployment benefits will be delayed or possibly denied.

At this point, no one knows how long the shutdown will last or how (or if) the issues which led to it will be resolved.  In order to avoid another national economic crisis (many African Americans are still struggling through the repercussions caused by the last recession), the NAACP is strongly urging all sides to put aside petty partisan politics and come to the table of address the real federal governmental needs of all of the American people in good faith.  They are our democratically elected leaders, and they should lead with addressing the real needs and concerns of all of the American people.

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