With African-American unemployment levels reaching historic highs in cities across the nation, prominent Black leaders both on and off Capitol Hill have expressed concerns that President Obama has ignored his most loyal and in-need base. But with the release of his new American Jobs Act, dogged determination to not lose control of the messaging to the American public as he did with the health care reform legislation — and putting Republicans on the defense — African-Americans are feeling hopeful again.
Some of the most vocal criticisms have come from Congressional Black Caucuses members who traversed the nation in August conducting job fairs and town hall meetings with thousands of people looking for work.
“I can see that our handprint is all over” Obama’s jobs plan, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) told the Associated Press. “We upped the ante a little bit by pushing, being a bit more vocal. This was not done in a way to threaten the president but to make it easier for him. We think we helped him to be able to formulate a response.”
Ralph Everett, president of the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, said in a statement that Obama’s plan connects all the dots and addresses the nation’s critical need for infrastructure repairs to public road, bridges and schools.
“It is grounded in fairness and in the objective of helping those most in need during these difficult times,” Everett said.
Although some leaders like Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have cautioned that Obama cannot be perceived as working to specifically target African-American needs because such efforts could backfire with the general electorate, the White House has definitely upped its Black outreach since the jobs act was unveiled. In addition to preparing a fact sheet on how the demographic would benefit from the plan if passed, the White House hosted an event Monday afternoon to discuss the issue with a live audience and Twitter users. He has also traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia, in the past week, two cities that have sizable African-American populations.
“I think he effectively called the Republicans out. He first of all presented proposals that they themselves have supported in the past when times were even better,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), including tax cuts and infrastructure programs. “It’s a good bill and he’s put them on the spot. It would seem dishonest if they were for tax cuts for the rich, but not the middle class.”
Cummings told BET.com that it seems Obama has gotten the message that frustrated CBC members, who will be expected to help carry the bill through Congress, have been sending him for the past few months. They have simply wanted him to follow the nation’s tradition of "rescuing" those who are hurting the most, whether it is from a hurricane, earthquake or wretchedly high unemployment.
“The caucus was saying we want the entire nation to heal, but keep in mind that the part of the country who are hurt the most — and it’s been documented — are the African-American and Hispanic communities that are suffering at a far greater proportion than the other parts of the population,” Cummings said. “I think the president’s gotten that message loud and clear."
(Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed /Landov)