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Dr. James Johnson at the 2011 Community Unity Breakfast

James H. Johnson, Jr.
William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor
Kenan-Flagler Business School
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. I want to thank my very dear cousin, Minnie Anderson, for that very kind and gracious introduction. 

As a native of Pitt County, I always consider it a high honor whenever I am invited back home to speak.  But I am especially grateful for the opportunity to serve as your keynote speaker on this very special occasion of your Annual Greenville-Pitt County Unity Breakfast.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. His nonviolent movement for racial justice and economic equality dramatically transformed American society.  I dare say I would not be standing here today were it not for the heroic acts and accomplishments of Dr. King and his many followers in the struggle for civil rights during the 1960s.

Reflecting back on the pre-civil rights era and how far we have come as a nation and as people since the 1960s, we truly have much to be thankful for today.

We have much for which to be thankful despite the fact that we, as a nation, are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

We have much to be thankful for notwithstanding the fact that we, as a state, are struggling with a nearly $4 billion revenue shortfall this year.

North Carolina’s current fiscal crisis will require all of us—citizens and institutions alike--to engage in considerable belt tightening if we are to weather the current economic storm.  

To be sure, this is neither the first nor likely the last time we as a nation and as a state will face a major economic and fiscal crisis. Historically, we have demonstrated a high level of resiliency in tough economic times, aggressively pursuing turnaround strategies and programs that were in the best interest of our nation and this state.

But I am deeply troubled by our seeming inability to dig ourselves out of the current economic malaise.  It seems that at every turn our efforts to “right the ship,” as it were, are thwarted. Why are we having such a difficult time reversing the current economic and fiscal crises?

I believe the primary culprit is a significant decline in civility and a growing climate of mean-spiritedness, divisiveness, and outright nastiness at all levels of American society, which make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve consensus on anything.  

  • The Arizona shootings are the most recent and tragic example of this decline in civility in our society.
  • Various proposals to amend the U.S. Constitution to deny birth right citizenship to children born in the U.S. to foreign nationals are another example.
  • Efforts to deny college access to young people who were brought to this country illegally by their parents are yet another example.
  • And the partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, while the nation’s competitiveness in the global market place continues to deteriorate rapidly, is probably the most glaring example.  

There are other examples, but time does not allow me to enumerate them here.

And in the midst of this decline in civility, the Greenville-Pitt County community has the audacity to host a unity breakfast! Because this is precisely the kind of thing I believe Dr. King would do were he alive today, I applaud your efforts.

But my hope is that you will also have the audacity and foresight to move beyond “talking” about unity and begin “doing” unity here in Greenville-Pitt County.  More specifically, I hope you will leverage the unity displayed in this room this morning to address some of the most pressing societal issues facing our nation, this state, and Greenville-Pitt County. This, too, is what I believe Dr. King would do were he alive today.

Thus, I have entitled my remarks for this occasion, “Doing Unity Work in an Era of Growing Incivility.” For your consideration, I have identified five specific “opportunities” for you to do unity work here in Greenville-Pitt County. To those of you who know me, it will not come as a surprise that the “opportunities” I think you have to do unity work in this community are rooted in my knowledge and understanding of the latest U.S. demographic trends.

Tomorrow one of my fellow colleagues in Carolina’s Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and I are releasing a white paper  that identifies some of the disruptive demographic trends of the first decade of the new millennium. The five opportunities I am about to present, which are designed to motivate you to start doing unity work, are extracted from the research reported in that white paper as well as some of our earlier work on disruptive demographics. 

I very much appreciate your indulgence as I briefly address each of these five opportunities.

Embrace Diversity

First, you have an opportunity to embrace the state’s ever increasing population diversity. Over the past several decades, North Carolina has been one of the nation’s most rapidly growing states. Between 1980 and 2009, for example, the state’s population increased by nearly 60 percent while the nation’s population grew by only 35%.  During the first decade of the new millennium, North Carolina was one of the nation’s leading migration destinations. A diverse array of newcomers from both domestic and international locations has dramatically altered the racial/ethnic and age composition, as well as the geographical distribution, of the state’s population. Since 2000, North Carolina’s population has grown almost twice as rapidly (16.1%) as the U.S. population (8%). 

In absolute terms, NC experienced a net population gain of 1.3 million during the first decade of the new millennium. Non-white groups—Blacks, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, and people of two or more races—were responsible for 54% of this net growth. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for only 45% of net growth. North Carolina’s Hispanic population grew most rapidly between 2000 and 2009, increasing by 87% and alone accounting for one quarter (26%) of net growth.

In terms of both absolute and relative population change, Pitt County was a microcosm of the state during the first decade of the new millennium, growing by 19% and adding 25,000 newcomers to the population.  Not unlike the state’s growth, Hispanics and other non-white groups were responsible for the bulk of Pitt County’s net population gain.

North Carolina’s and Pitt County’s populations are more diverse in good part as a result of major immigrant flows from around the world. Doing the unity work required to ensure that this diversity is embraced locally is not only the right thing to do for social or moral reasons; in the global economy of the 21st century, this increased diversity also can be turned into a major competitive advantage for the state and Greenville-Pitt County.

Immigrants not only have a strong entrepreneurial orientation—much stronger than the native-born — they also can be a critical link in developing export marketing opportunities for locally produced goods and services in their home countries. In other words, it is a form of enlightened self-interest for you to do the unity work required for Greenville-Pitt County to embrace its emerging diversity.

 A New Model of Redistricting

Second, as I argued in a January 6th  News & Observer opinion editorial, you have an opportunity to do the unity work necessary to usher in a new era of political redistricting in the state of North Carolina. The growth, increasing diversity, and redistribution of the U.S. population to states like NC since 2000 have set the stage for a fierce political battle over congressional reapportionment at the national level and legislative redistricting at the state level once Census 2010 results are made public.  Typically, irrespective of which political party is responsible for redrawing district boundaries, the overarching goal is either to maintain or regain political and electoral advantage.

But we must move away from redistricting with a political favoritism face. Instead, we must embrace redistricting with a human and economic face—an approach that is sensitive to the state’s contemporary economic and demographic realities and challenges.

We need a redistricting process that enables us to brand North Carolina as a sustainable place to live and do business.  That is, a community where the triple bottom line principles of sustainability--social justice and equity (people), environmental stewardship (planet), and shareholder/stakeholder value (profits)—hold equal weight in government decision-making, especially in matters related to workforce development and employment growth.

Governing according to sustainability principles requires our political leaders to incorporate factors other than race and political affiliation in the calculus of redistricting. Whoever assumes the responsibility for redrawing district lines must recognize that we are living in a hyper-competitive world characterized by the global sourcing of both blue- and white-collar jobs.

The redistricting process therefore must be used to simultaneously leverage the intellectual talent and innovation capacity of our most vibrant and diverse regions, including the entrepreneurial acumen of emerging immigrant communities, and hone in on regions that are struggling or barely surviving.  

We must use a diverse array of objective, public data--demographic, socio-economic, health and environmental--to define these two types of regions. The next step will require policymakers to engage in a concerted and concentrated effort to maintain the vibrancy of the high-growth regions and bring people and jobs back to the state’s declining regions. 

Here in Greenville-Pitt County it will be necessary for you to help Raleigh leaders recognize that this is a strategic imperative for the state’s future competitiveness in the highly volatile global economy of the 21st century and to pressure them to demonstrate the political will to enact it.

Helping our Men

Third, you have the opportunity to do the unity work required to address the deteriorating economic circumstances and employment prospects of men in American society, especially African American males. 

Over the past decade, cyclical and structural changes in the U.S. economy have profoundly affected the employment prospects of American workers. Men have been more adversely affected than women in part because they are concentrated in economic sectors, such as manufacturing and construction, which have been most vulnerable to automation, foreign competition, and cyclical downturns. Women, on the other hand, are concentrated in economic sectors, such as government (including public education) and health services, which actually grew in the face of the recession and are projected to continue to be among the fastest growing sectors over the coming decade.

At no point in history has the disparate employment impacts by gender been more apparent.  According to BLS, men bore 80% of the total U.S. job loss between 2007 and 2009, leading some to dub the most recent economic downturn a “Man-cession” and others to argue that this may very well signal the “end of men” as the dominant force not only in the U.S. labor market but other aspects of American life as well.

Among other forces, men’s employment prospects have been impacted by their slipping level of educational attainment relative to women.  For example, the sex ratio in college admissions has been 60 percent female and 40 percent male for most of the past decade. And for the graduating class of 2010, 572,000 more associates’, bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctor’s degrees were awarded to women than to men.  In four-year colleges and universities, for every two males that graduated, three females graduated.

As a result of these factors, women are close to surpassing men as the numerical majority in the paid U.S. workforce.  In 2009, according to BLS, there were 91 million women business owners—about 40 percent of all businesses---in the U.S.   In addition, women held 43 percent of executive, administrative, and managerial positions in the U.S. economy.  As a result, the male-female wage gap is at its narrowest point in history—in large measure because men are doing so poorly in the labor market today.

Some market research even suggests that there is now a reverse gender gap in some cities and metropolitan areas where women are earning as much as 20% more than men.  In married couple households, women now account for 47% of household income. In 2008, 63.3 percent of mothers were breadwinners or co-breadwinners, up from 27.7% in 1967.

It is positive news that U.S. women have made remarkable progress in education attainment, labor market participation, and narrowing the gender gap in earnings over the past decade. But the devastating impact of recent cyclical and structural changes in the U.S. economy on male employment is a potentially serious threat to our nation’s and this state’s future if this is not also addressed. 

During the first decade of the new millennium, in contrast to prior census periods, (1) male job loss was no longer limited to mainly blue collar workers but also included a significant number of white collar jobholders as well; and (2) long term joblessness—defined as being unemployed for six months or longer--increased more rapidly among the well-educated and those concentrated in white collar and service occupations than it did among the less well educated and blue collar workers.  This suggests that education is necessary but no longer sufficient to guarantee U.S. males a viable livelihood in a turbulent, uncertain economy characterized by the global sourcing of both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. 

To thrive and prosper in the years ahead, U.S. males who have either experienced economic dislocations or at substantial risks of such dislocations will have to demonstrate greater entrepreneurial acumen, that is, “a …willingness to take higher risks for higher rewards and the ability to be agile, resilient, tenacious, and decisive in responding to unanticipated crises and opportunities.” Also, American colleges and universities will have to play a major role in nurturing and growing entrepreneurial acumen among America’s younger populations.

Given that many of the males affected by the current economic downturn will have to return to school to develop or fine tune their entrepreneurial skills, higher education institutions must also pursue a variety of strategies and delivery mechanisms to address the entrepreneurial education needs of this population.

Helping dislocated males regain a foot hole in the mainstream economy is not only good for the future prosperity and competitiveness of our nation.  It also has the potential to strengthen the nation’s social fabric, including the institutions of marriage and family as well as a host of other civic organizations that enrich our communities.

Assisting Grandparents

Fourth, you have an opportunity to do unity work that will assist grandparents raising grandchildren—one of the fastest growing household types in America and North Carolina during the first decade of the new millennium. As I just noted,  structural changes in the U.S. economy have devastated the employment prospects of working age males and in the process, this reduced the pool of marriageable men (especially prominent in the African American community) and contributed to increasing rates of family dissolution, out-of-wedlock births, and even suicide among the long-termed unemployed. Grandparents are increasingly providing their grandchildren (and in some instances, the fathers and/or mothers of their grandchildren) with physical accommodations as well as emotional and financial support. 

In 1997, 6% of U.S. children (3.9 million) lived in a grandparent’s home, up 76% from 2.2 million in 1970. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of children living in grandparent headed households increased by 26.1% (1.0 million) while the number of children living in all U.S. household types increased only 3.8 % (2.7 million). In 2010, 4.9 million American children lived in grandparent headed households. Over half (54% or 2.6 million) were living in households headed by both grandparents. Forty percent (1.9 million) were living in households headed by grandmother only and six percent (318,000) were residing in households headed by grandfather only.

In about two thirds of the grandparent headed households, the grandchildren were sharing their grandparents’ homes with either one or both of their parents.  The added responsibility of taking care of not only their grandchildren but also in some instances one or both of the parents of their grandchildren imposes a considerable social, psychological, physical, and financial strain on all three types of grandparent headed households.  But this situation is especially burdensome and challenging for grandmother only headed households, who are far more likely to have incomes below the poverty level than other family types. 

To give you a sense of how great the need is for unity work in this area, North Carolina ranked 6th nationally in grandparents responsible for grandchildren under 18 in 2008.

Rallying Around our Children

Finally, you have the opportunity to do the unity work required to determine how to properly educate the current generation of primary and secondary age school children, who are far more diverse than previous generations. As the U.S. population has aged on the one hand and become more diverse through immigration driven population change on  the other, who should have access to and who should pay for public education are two interrelated questions that have become hotly contested public policy issues.  

The youth that are most at risk of falling through the cracks of our public education system are predominantly non-white--mainly Black and Hispanic.  They attend severely under-resourced and the lowest performing schools which are experiencing re-segregation along race/ethnic lines.  Labeled dropout factories, these schools have on average a much lower percentage of fully licensed teachers, a much higher percentage of emergency and provisional licensed and lateral entry staff, a much higher teacher turnover rate, and administrative leadership that is less experienced than what exists in high performing schools.

Allowing these students to languish in under-resourced and low performing schools is not just an ethical or moral issue; rather, and more importantly, this, too, is a competitiveness issue.  Given the huge wave of baby boomers who are about to retire, we will need the skills and talents of these younger generations to prosper in the years ahead.

Concluding Remarks

Committing as a community to doing unity work in these five domains will go a long way toward making Greenville-Pitt County a more attractive place to live and do business.  It will also represent good work toward Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of economic opportunity and justice for all—irrespective of race, creed, color, or national origin. The time is now for you, as a community, to continue to do the unity work and respond to these amazing opportunities.

I thank you for your time and attention this morning. 


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