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For Minorities, Milestone Election Contrasts With Bleak Economy

Dan Haar

November 06, 2008

Ubah Abdi was in a fine mood Wednesday morning on her way to her job at the Goodwin Hotel in downtown Hartford, where she has worked for 18 years. An African immigrant who voted for Obama, she imagined what the election meant for her three children.

The night before, her family's home in Bloomfield was filled with friends, mostly fellow Somali-Americans, celebrating the Obama victory. After a day off Tuesday, she figured the hotel would be all a-chatter about the election.

Reality hit hard when she arrived to learn the hotel's owner had announced that the hotel will close at the end of the year. Not much talk of Obama on this day.

"I was happy for the election, for the economy," Abdi said. "I thought my job was safe. But I'm not happy this morning."

The morning-after reality check was, thankfully, not so stark for most people across Hartford and other cities Wednesday. But the harsh reality remains, especially for black workers dealing with the recession. Even as Obama brings new hope and pride, economic statistics paint a bleak picture for minority workers that will not change dramatically any time soon.

Unemployment, rising for all groups, stood nationally at 11.2 percent for blacks in October more than twice the rate of whites. Worse still, the rise in unemployment was far steeper over the last 12 months for blacks than for whites. And Friday morning, when the new national jobs data come out, no one expects improvement.

Wages, home ownership and nearly every other measure of prosperity show a similar trend for blacks: either a decline that's worse than that of the population as a whole, or a history of never having shared fully in that prosperity in the first place.

Obama's election is not, of course, a signal moment for blacks alone. Still, several people in Hartford said Wednesday, black communities feel a particularly sharp mix of upbeat anticipation and hardened pragmatism.

"It's not going to make a difference in the short term," said Herman Todd, a Jamaican immigrant who owns Living Word Imprints on Homestead Avenue in Hartford. "For the mess this country's in, it doesn't matter who's up there. He's not a god. He's just a man."

But Todd, who was doing a brisk and festive business Wednesday making and selling Obama hats, T-shirts and jerseys, added: "On a spiritual level it will mean a whole lot. The pride that we feel now overshadows whatever stinging we may be feeling."

The question is how Obama might help turn pride into results.

Abdi and her husband, a state civil engineer from the same part of Somalia, met here soon after she arrived in 1989. Although they're Muslim, they send their daughter and two sons to Catholic schools, a major expense.

If she loses her job, she'll be armed with a degree she received this summer at Manchester Community College. But she's worried, suddenly. "That's a big difference, how I feel yesterday and how I feel today."

To help workers who are pinched, if they're working at all, Obama will generally try to pump money directly to communities and households, in contrast to so-called supply-side measures that put money into the hands of banks, investors and big corporations. (He'll do that, too.)

Beyond that, the picture grows difficult. Todd, for his part, thinks urban workers would gain if companies were prodded to stop shipping jobs overseas a debatable idea.

For now, it's a time to look forward at his store. Some customers Wednesday wanted him to make more of the popular Obama T-shirts he sold before the election, fearing he would lose money if he didn't. He's moving to a new line of Obama Victory goods. "We're just beginning," he assured them.

"We're all just beginning," said customer Gerry Green of Hartford. "Yesterday was a miracle."

And tomorrow is a slog.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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