As of the October, 2012 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the black community was 14.1 % (nearly double the unemployment rate for the country). Hardest hit in the black community are black men who suffer unemployment rates as high as 24% in some parts of the country. Under President Obama’s second term, the black community should not expect these rates to drop. According to John Lott of Fox News, GDP growth is slower today than it was during the recovery period (1934 to 1940) following the Great Depression. Given these prospects, what should the black community do?
The answer is surprisingly simple – “Ask Black Churches to Invest In Small Businesses”. LiveSteez, a social media company, found that from 1980 to 2011, black churches collected $420 billion in tithes and donations. In a separate study, Tyler Media Services found that black churches collected $17 billion in 2006. To put these staggering numbers into perspective, if the $420 billion collected by black churches was deposited into a single bank, it would be the fifth largest FDIC insured bank in the United States (based on deposits). US Bankcorp (USB) is currently the fifth largest bank, and the company employs 62,000 people. Many church goers have started to ask several key questions of their church leaders, such as “Am I getting a return on investment from my tithes?” and “why isn’t the church playing a more active role in economic development?”
During the civil rights movement, several prominent black churches, along with other grass roots organizations, raised funds for the legal defense of the 1960s community activists. Though most would agree that blacks have reached the top of the social and political “mountain top,” many have yet to reach even the lowest economic summit when compared to their white counterparts. It would stand to reason that since the church played such a critical role in social and political development in the 1960s and 1970s, it should continue its role today as economic and community developers. Can the church really have an impact on unemployment in the black community?
According to the US Census (Jan 4, 2012), there are 1.9 million licensed black businesses, a number that is up 60.5 % since 2007. However, despite the increase in the total number of black businesses, the Census also showed that less than 100,000 of the 1.9 million black businesses had one or more employees. Imagine if black churches used some portion of the $17 billion in tithes to encourage 1.8 million black businesses to hire just one person. As of November 2, 2012, there were 2.68 million unemployed blacks. If black churches succeeded in encouraging the employment of 1.8 million blacks, the unemployment rate would drop by a shocking 67 % (making unemployment in the black community equal to national unemployment rates)!
Fortunately, there are churches that have already traveled this Damascus Road and have started investing in small businesses and community development. Reverend Barry Randolph of the Detroit-based Church of the Messiah offers a range of services in the basement of the church: subsidized housing, urban gardening, mentoring, a food pantry, a computer lab, a small-business incubator, and a thrift store. In fact, Nikki’s Ginger Tea, winner of the Crain’s Salute to Entrepreneurs award, was launched from Messiah’s basement incubator.