(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a freshman conservative congressman and former Army officer, said that the “breakdown of the Black family” is one of the most important causes of the economic disparity facing the black community.
“We are here today to talk about economic freedom, as opposed to economic dependency,” West said at a Capitol Hill forum Monday addressing “Economic Empowerment in the Black Community.”
“‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ in the black community are at 28 percent; that leads to a failure in education and that leads to a failure in urban statistics and revitalization,” West said.
A panelist at the forum, West said Black unemployment remains at almost 14 percent -- almost double the rate for whites.
“This is a trend that has continued for the past 50 years, during both strong and weak economies,” he said.
West also noted that 4.8 percent of black students dropped out of high school in 2009, also double the rate of drop outs for the white community.”
West said the federal government has invested billions of dollars to solve this crisis, yet the statistics remain staggering.
“The federal government is getting too big,” he said. “We cannot do everything for everybody in the United States of America from cradle to grave. We just cannot. And I said we are looking at the growth of a welfare entitlement state.”
“I’m not talking about Medicare and Medicaid and social security, that’s mandatory spending programs,” West said.
“I am talking about the fact where if you can sit at home and get more from the federal government than someone who is actually going out and working hard, then you’re dis-incentivizing,” he said.
“You cannot grow businesses because they won’t be able to have anyone out there to work it,” the congressman added.
Panelist Ruth Jones, city manager from Rivera Beach, Fla., agreed with West.
“If you look at the data as it relates to family, when you do not have the family structure of the father, the mother teaching, and it could be the mother teaching, but it’s the teaching inside of the household that, before you go outside you know what you need to do,” said Jones.
She added: “Government can’t do it alone, but the family can do it. My great grandmother was a slave, she put us in a boxcar, she didn’t have it in the household, but she went and earned it and she taught us how to make money, so I do believe that you can do it, but its going to take everyone, its going to take the family, its going to take the parents, its going to take the church.”
West’s assessment, however, was not universally shared.
Panelist Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), attributed the economic disparity to race.
“I would argue that the reason we are here talking about this is tied to one thing and one thing only and that is race, otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who was the first African-American to reach billionaire status, according to Forbes magazine, said we must resolve “institutionalized racial discrimination” in America, and encouraged a government tax policy that will impact the Black community.
“This is like Farmer A and Farmer B -- if I’m running at 10 miles an hour, and there is somebody ahead of me running at 10 miles an hour, I can guarantee you, I will never catch them. Now I’m not saying we should slow the guy down running at 10, just help me run faster,” he said.
All panelists, meanwhile, agreed that a lack of education was a leading cause for the lack of entrepreneurship in the Black community.
Also on the panel were Florida State Rep. Mack Bernard (D-Fla.); economist Dr. Arthur Laffer; County Commissioner Ashley Bell from Georgia; Harry C. Alford, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce; Kay DeBow, executive vice-president, National Black Chamber of Commerce; Darrell “DJ” Jordan, staff member of the U.S. House Small Business Committee and Pamela Hart, president of Florida Association of Minority Business Enterprise Officials.