BET founder on high unemployment among African Americans

Robert Johnson discusses high unemployment among African Americans


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 3, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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O'REILLY: "Unresolved Problem Segment" tonight.

As may know, unemployment for black Americans stands close to 14 percent. It's half that for white Americans, about seven percent. Recently the founder of the Black Entertainment Television Network said this:


ROBERT L. JOHNSON, FOUNDER, BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION: This country would never tolerate white unemployment at 14 and 15 percent. No one would ever stay in office at 14 percent or 15 percent unemployment in this nation. But we have had that double unemployment for over 50 years.


O'REILLY: And joining us now from Washington is Bob Johnson. So here is what I don't understand, 93 percent of African-Americans voted for President Obama last November. Even though black employment is so high. Why?

JOHNSON: Well, I think first of all, African-Americans have immense pride in President Obama as a president. They see it as a major accomplishment in this country and embracing an African-American leader. And they are positive and hopeful, probably, more than anything else, that his leadership will make their lives better.

O'REILLY: All right. But it didn't turn out that way. I mean he had four years to improve the black unemployment rate. And it's not improving. So you are saying that African-American community en masse is voting on hope. They hope it's going to get better but it certainly hasn't gotten better.

JOHNSON: Yes. I would say, Bill that African-Americans have been living under this unemployment problem, this gap for over 50 years if you look at the Bureau of Labor statistics.

O'REILLY: I have them here. I have them here.

JOHNSON: African-American unemployment has been double that of white people for over 50 years.

O'REILLY: Ok let me give you the stats. Let me give you the stats.

JOHNSON: All right.

O'REILLY: In the year 2000 all right, when President Bush was elected for the first term black unemployment was below eight percent. It went up a little bit and then it went down a again in 2007 to about eight percent. Under President Obama, that has risen up from when the President took office it was about 10 percent and its risen now to 14 percent.

So there has been as with everybody else and there have been a flow in black unemployment. Let me -- let me ask you this. I believe that the primary problem in the African-American community is out-of-wedlock birth, 71 percent. And that drives poverty. It makes educating kids harder because they are not supervised if they don't have a dad in the home many times.

Am I wrong on that?

JOHNSON: Well I think you're wrong in saying it's the primary driver of African-American unemployment. I think it's one of the social factors that African-Americans face.

But to me, the principle drivers are the failure of corporate America to hire enough African-Americans who are qualified, failure of African- Americans to get access to capital to start small businesses which are great engines for creating employment. And also a legacy of long-term institutionalized racism that has placed blacks in a situation where for example, Bill, the past 20 years the wealth gap has increased by $70,000 among African-Americans and whites according to the Pew Research Center. In addition, African-American median income is one tenth of that of white Americans.

And when you add all of the dislocations in the economy, not all of them caused in any way by the recession but a big part of them, global competition and other things in terms of U.S. manufacturing of business, African-Americans are usually the last hired and the first fired.

O'REILLY: Do you really believe it's a skin color issue rather than a performance issue?

JOHNSON: Bill, I have been convinced all my life -- I have been in business all of my life. I have been quite successful as you might know. But I will tell you this. There are thousands, millions of African- Americans who have the talent, the work ethic, the integrity, the ingenuity to be successful in jobs or in business.

But you have to admit that any time you have a situation for 50 years, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement, when African-Americans were making huge gains and fair employment and housing and legislation was enacted we spent more money on education than any time in the African- American history, there is something here more than just the failure of the family or the failure of an individual African-American to pursue a job. It has to do with the fact that this -- this question of race discrimination still lingers on.


O'REILLY: All right you are laying it on a skin color. And I mean it's -- I can't say yes or no. But all I can tell you this you and I are kind of contemporaries. All right, we started out in the media about the same time. Every corporation that I have worked for in the past 37 years has actively recruited African-Americans. They want them. All right? Qualified African-Americans they are looking for them. Now, I don't know whether -- I don't work in the other industries. I don't know whether there is institutional racism in the oil industry or the banking industry. I don't know.

So, I really can't make any definitive statement about it. But it's interesting your point of view and that's why we wanted to have you on tonight and thanks for coming in, Bob. We appreciate it.

JOHNSON: I'm delighted, Bill. Thank you.

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