Tonight, BET is set to air an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama. In an open-ended forum last week, BET.com asked Black America what they wanted to ask the president. Topics expressed ranged from unemployment and the national debt to public assistance and the death penalty.
Just prior to the interview, scheduled to broadcast tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST, BET.com asked a few questions of the man nominated by President Obama to overlook and create policies affecting every American, the Labor Department’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Dr. William Spriggs.
BET.com: It seems as if almost every day we’re hearing about Black unemployment, which currently stands at 16.7 percent. As an advocate for low-income and working families, is there anything to let Black Americans know for sure that help is on the way?
Dr. William Spriggs: This administration continues to fight for the help that low-income and working families need most. The American Jobs Act, proposed by the president and sitting before Congress right now, would help immediately. The extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed would prevent 1.4 million African-Americans from losing benefits over the next year. This is key since we know that emergency benefits have kept many from falling into poverty.
How exactly will The American Jobs Act put people back to work in urban communities?
1. The American Jobs Act includes a Pathways-Back-to-Work program, which provides resources to subsidize employment in areas with high unemployment and a high share of disadvantaged workers.
2. There is also funding for a program that targets summer and year-round employment for disadvantaged youth, which will greatly help African-American youth who have seen their unemployment rate increase sharply.
3. The American Jobs Acts calls for smart investments in schools serving low-income students and the housing markets hit hardest by foreclosures that will not only provide a better chance to learn, but will also create local job opportunities.
4. Payroll tax cuts would put $1,100 back into the pockets of the typical African-American worker and help minority-owned small businesses, as well.
5. The infrastructure projects that the president has been highlighting over the last few weeks will ensure that jobs are available to people living where the work is done, and make training available to help small businesses compete for these contracts.
All of these will have a big impact for the nation, and for the African-American community.
In Michigan it was recently announced that 37.6 percent of all people lived in poverty in 2010, and Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into law a 48-month lifetime limit on public assistance. In urban cities like Detroit, is the Obama administration’s goal to cut off assistance from those who still may need it most?
Despite partisan roadblocks in Congress, the president has continually fought back efforts to strip funding from programs that help those who need it most. The American Jobs Act would subsidize jobs for low-income individuals and help them make the transition to full-time employment. [Additionally,] 5,600 adults and another 17,200 youth in Michigan would be helped by the subsidized jobs included in The American Jobs Act. In addition [to those figures], in the first six weeks alone, about 81,400 people looking for work in Michigan would have their unemployment insurance benefits protected.
We can continually state statistics and talk about how some communities are affected more than others, but as an expert in labor policy and economics, how should Black Americans be feeling about the economy? Why?
Since the president took office, he’s reversed the dangerous trend of monthly job losses and we’ve now seen 18 straight months of private sector job growth, but even that hasn’t been enough to get us out of the economic hole our country was in. Our economy is not producing enough new jobs fast enough. If the economy is not producing enough jobs for everyone, obviously, it cannot produce enough jobs for African-Americans. That’s why the President put forward The American Jobs Act, that includes additional common sense solutions to help get America back to work. These solutions acknowledge and address the difficulties many communities are having, in particular, low-income communities where many African-Americans live.
We should feel hopeful, but we all have to work to get Congress to act.
To hear what issues President Obama will address tonight, tune in to BET at 7:30P/6:30C and check out BET.com tomorrow for highlights.
To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.
(Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)