This evening, as the President speaks to the nation about his plan to create jobs, he must acknowledge the economic disaster in the African American community, whose unemployment rate hovers at roughly 16.7 percent, almost double that of the general population and equal to depression-era levels. He must then articulate how the plan he puts forth will target the communities with the highest rates of unemployment, including the African American community.
We must target resources to the most needy urban and rural communities in ways that make sense. It is time for us all to acknowledge that a rising tide does not lift all boats.
To be clear, I am not advocating for a “Black Jobs” program. Rather, I am advocating for an approach that uses targeting to areas with high unemployment and poverty as a guiding principle in the design and disbursement of any new programs, tax cuts or emergency assistance. Such strategic allocation could have a net-positive impact on the unemployment rates in communities of color, and the country as a whole.
For example, if the President and Congress were to create an infrastructure bank, funded in part by repatriated foreign earnings, we could use small, women-owned, minority-owned and community banks, which disproportionately serve communities of color, to make loans for infrastructure projects with local hiring requirements, rather than the large financial institutions who are disconnected from communities and through the bailout, have shown an unwillingness to lend. Additionally, the President and Congress could create a tax-credit, similar to credits suggested for hiring veterans, which would incentivize companies to hire persons from areas of high unemployment. We could also create tax incentives for companies to bring previously outsourced jobs, back to areas of high unemployment. Finally, the President and Congress could target federal dollars to states and localities with high rates of unemployment and poverty to hire teachers, police and firemen.
There is a precedent for targeting assistance to communities that are disproportionately impacted by economic conditions. In fact, targeted public policy is the American way. In response to the disproportionate needs of the hard-hit Tennessee Valley (MS, GA, NC, and VA) during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act (TVA) in 1933 to modernize the region. Today, we can see a similar, disproportionate impact on urban communities during this recession, as evidenced by high unemployment levels in the black, Latino, urban and low-income communities. Just as Roosevelt recognized the need in rural areas then, the President must recognize the need in urban communities now. These Americans, deserve no less.
Although extreme elements of the GOP would have it otherwise, when our country is impacted by a natural disaster, we respond. We send engineers, equipment and money to address the needs of the communities hardest hit by the disaster. The African American community is in the midst of a economic disaster and in need of targeted public policy to address its unique challenges.
There are two basic arguments used by those uncomfortable with targeted public policy for the African American community. First, they argue that the President is the President to everyone and therefore should not target policy towards any one specific group. Second, they argue second that doing so would give the appearance of favoritism and endanger his re-election.
The President is in fact, the President to “everyone,” not just African Americans. However, “everyone” is not an amorphous concept. In fact, “everyone” is made up of all Americans and includes Blacks, Whites, Asians and Latinos. “Everyone” is the young and the old. “Everyone” is urban and rural. “Everyone” is men and women, rich and poor. All of these communities are different and at times require help in different and targeted ways, in part, because of these differences. These differences are what make our American “everyone” special and no one part of that “everyone,” including African Americans, should be sacrificed for polls, prejudice or political correctness.
Then there are those, who believe that the President, because he is black, cannot talk specifically about issues directly impacting the black community, like high unemployment. They suggest that doing so would endanger the President’s chances of being re-elected. I share the desire to re-elect the first black President. But, I would offer a slightly different analysis.
If the unemployment rates in the African American Community continue to climb, like they did in August by almost a full percentage point, those African American voters who came out to the polls for the first time in 2008 but who have since lost their home and/or their job, may not return to the polls. Therefore, targeting public policy to a community who accounted for 13 percent of the electorate in ‘08, and who is now experiencing the culmination of a decade of economic crisis, is not just good policy, but good politics.
The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In short, targeted public policy aimed at creating equal pay for women. Since being elected, the President has signed bills and exercised executive prerogative to target resources to specific communities. Not just good policy, good politics.
There are roughly three million African Americans out of work today, a number nearly equal to the entire population of Iowa. I would suggest that if the entire population of Iowa, a key state on the electoral map and a place that served as a stop on the Presidents jobs bus tour were unemployed, they would be mentioned in the President’s speech and be the beneficiary of targeted public policy. So, one question to be answered this evening is, are the unemployed in the African American community, including almost 45 percent of its youth, as important as the people of Iowa?