A different Al Gore showed up last week at Unity 99, the largest gathering of
minority journalists in the United States. Taking center stage before 6,000 people in Seattle,
Washington, a looser Gore was no longer a campaign in search of a theme, but a man with
something to say. And what Gore has to say is pretty important to those who want to keep
continue watching stock portfolios grow and building these big houses out in Baltimore
County. America's economic joyride is about to come to a halt, unless we do something the
growing Digital Divide.
Gore has cast himself as the modern-day Paul Revere, just as the Department of
Commerce has turned up the heat on our shocking neglect of minority communities with the
latest installment of its multi-year report, "Falling through the Net," detailing the disparities
in computer use and Internet access among whites and Asian Americans compared to blacks
To the surprise of everybody except minorities, educators and these involved in
pushing minorities into the high-tech age, the report clearly showed that the gap is growing,
not shrinking, between blacks, Hispanics, Asians and whites in computer ownership and
Internet usage. The only bright spot was at the very top of the earnings scale, for black
families earning $75,000 a year or more. Their computer use and Internet access equaled
But most black folks are felling farther and farther behind. So are Hispanics.
What makes this issue any more important than other problems that largely contain
themselves to poor communities and for the most part provide cocktail-party discussion
fodder for the rest of America?
As Al Gore points out, this one has the serious potential of ending this country's
unprecedented good times. Gore is right on target. And this is more real is than the pseudo,
anti-affirmation action- and anti-crime issues every right winger is likely to throw at us
between now and November 2000.
America will have a tough go trying to keep its grasp on more than a third of the
world's capital when American kids are trying to learn science from textbooks that talk about
a future when man might finally walk on the moon, as can be found in inner-city schools
today. How is American industry going to sustain its economic drive when almost one third
of our children have not been taught the most basic academic skills?
We are already feeling the sting. Last year alone, more than 200,000 information
technology jobs went begging, according to the Information Technology Association of
America. Some 25,000 of those jobs went unfilled in Maryland alone. In most high-tech
states, more than 60 percent of the employers are reporting shortages of skilled labor.
And remember: only one in three jobs in high-tech Silicon Valley require technology
skills. The managerial, customer-service and support staff functions are hurting as badly as
the R&D labs. The shortage of folks who can simply write, read and add is so bad that the
Air Force now questions whether it needs to drop the high-school diploma requirement in
order to meet its recruitment goals.
All of this is happening because America is older, and because those entering the
work force in large numbers today are the very people we have turned our collective backs
on all these years.
At the median age of 35, this is the oldest America has every been. At the same time,
seven out of 10 of the new entrants into the work force, blacks, Hispanics and women, are
the least-educated and poorest prepared to take over the jobs needed to keep us in golf tees.
Census figures say the communities of color will provide the numbers of young workers into
the next few decades. Fifty-three percent of all blacks are under the age of 30 today. Some
47 percent of Hispanics are under the age of 20.
The kids we ignored all these years are going to all to happy to push us into nursing
homes. Unfortunately, the roofs will probably fall in on us, because there may not be skilled
craftsworkers to keep them sturdy.
It's good that someone like Al Gore has now embraced this issue as a major campaign
theme. It's not as if the warnings have not been forthcoming. For several decades, minority
scholars like Morgan State's Engineering Dean, Dr. Eugene DeLoatch, have been sounding
the alarm to a nation that couldn't seem to hear anything but the bells on Wall Street.
Paul Revere Gore sees a technological revolution coming. The Chinese would love to
own our nuclear might, the Japanese are dedicated to doing in microbiology and applied
science fields what they did to us in electronics, autos and steel, and there are a couple of
European countries which would love to send Boeing and its 250,000 workers back to
building twin-engined water jets.
America has got to come to terms with its minority population. Diversity in hiring
and equality in education is no longer a luxury, but a manner of self preservation. The kids
who are going to be flying those Tomcats and Hornets off the decks of tomorrow's aircraft
carriers and finding treatments for the old-age illnesses that will hit all of us are at Dunbar
High School today. We would like to believe that before launching a missile they know
North from South, and that before they plug in our IVs, they know how to find a vein with a
Al Gore has got it right. But it's just not the British who are coming this time.
America's ability to remain the major economic and military power is absolutely intertwined
with the success we have in bringing blacks and Hispanics into the Information Revolution.
If we fail the youth of Baltimore city, and of all the cities teeming with hopeful young people
of color, we shouldn't be surprised when other flags replace the old stars and stripes at the
top of the world.