As he gears up for the 2012 election, President Obama is making sure he and his aides wholly and seriously address the number one issue on every voter’s mind: jobs, and specifically, when they will return. The national unemployment rate dropped slightly in July, but the U.S. is still at more than 9 percent joblessness. That’s left a lot of Americans angry, especially Black Americans, who are unemployed at rates far higher than whites and the nation as a whole. In June, the unemployment rate for black males was at nearly 18 percent.
Naturally, African-Americans are frustrated and sick of waiting. And that sentiment reached a fever pitch at a town hall meeting in Miami on Monday night. At a meeting attended by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA.) and other Black leaders, Don Graves, head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, fielded questions and complaints about jobs and the economy. As you can probably imagine, Graves’ task was not easy.
The Obama administration has long operated under the slogan “a rising tide lifts all boats,” that is, fix the economy at large and every community—Black, white, Latino, etc.—will reap the rewards. But that hasn’t been the case for many African-Americans, and the leaders in Florida demanded answers.
According to Politico, Congresswoman Laura Richardson, another Democrat from California, told Graves that the "rising tide" sentiment was “a bunch of bull.” She then asked Graves if he would be willing to engage with Black lawmakers to push through bills designed to get Blacks back to work, but Graves didn’t make a verbal agreement.
Based on the reports, much of the night sounded like Black leaders asking hard questions of Graves, who tried to dance around them as best he could. For instance, when Graves said that joblessness has impacted “certain communities” more than others, Waters directly told him, “Let me hear you say ‘Black.’” Graves’ response was democratic: “Black, African-American, Latino—we’re going to focus on getting people back to work.”
There’s no getting around the fact that African-Americans are suffering at a far greater rate in this recession than their white counterparts. When talking jobs, the Obama administration is eventually going to have to have big-boy conversations about how to attack Black poverty and unemployment. They can try to dance around “saying Black” in the coming months, but that strategy might find them also dancing out of the good graces of a great many Black voters, who just want a straight answer—and a job.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)