We did not need to see today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report to know that the economic picture is bleak for Black Americans. Even before the official start of the recession, Blacks were falling far behind. Since the start of the recession Black Americans have experienced are own Great Depression. Forget about last hired, first fired. In the Black community, it has been never been hired, with no “opportunity” to be fired.
For months, as the economic hole grew deeper for Blacks, the President has advised patience while empathizing with the plight of the Black unemployed. President Obama has resisted calls for an agenda specific to Black unemployment, insisting that a rising tide will lift all boats. It is a message that is falling upon deaf ears. The boat has already capsized and thrown most Blacks overboard. There is little faith in a message that has never rung true for Blacks and is counterintuitive to the history of our nation. While Blacks may have gained jobs during the Clinton administration, too many of those jobs were at the low end of the wage scale and vanished when the economy went south. There has been no progress in creating the good-wage jobs shipped overseas and outsourced to the suburbs. As these jobs disappeared, it left many Blacks in our nation’s inner cities with no opportunity for self-sustainment. What we are now witnessing is the culmination of a forty-year period of our nation’s failure to advance an urban agenda.
Through it all, Blacks are still supporting the President. We understand why. After waiting since the advent of our democracy for the opportunity to elect a Black person President we are loathe abandoning him even during this period of economic devastation. Recent polls prove that. Still, at some point even the President’s most ardent supporters in the Black community are going to demand reciprocity. While every so-called “progressive group” seeks to lay claim to the Obama presidency, the truth of the matter is that without Black support this President would have returned to Illinois a defeated candidate after the November election. Blacks overcame their initial skepticism and fully embraced Barack Obama as a change agent. Yet, little has changed in the fortunes of the masses of Black Americans.
Yes, we know that the previous occupant of the White House, George W. Bush, left President Obama with a mess. We are also understand the emergency economic measures, including the stimulus package, that Mr. Obama had to put in place to keep the entire nation from teetering over the cliff. Where we differ with the President is his insistence that he cannot put forth a targeted plan to address the circumstances of a particular group, in this case Black Americans. The Black experience in the economy is unique and cannot be reconciled with that of whites, even lower income whites, who have a historical and present-day advantage. While everyone may be bleeding, the wounds inflicted upon Blacks are a bit deeper and more traumatic.
Last weekend’s One Nation March, while standing for all the right things, was hardly an accurate picture of what is happening in our nation. The economic pain is widespread for sure but felt most intensely by Blacks with no help in sight. No amount of marching arm-in-arm and expressions of solidarity is going to pay the rent, put the food on the table, and keep the lights on in Black households. The rhetoric of “progressive unanimity” rings hollow when Blacks are continuously in the position of casting votes and gaining few, if any, rewards.
The BLS reported that Black unemployment is at 16.1 percent. At what level will the administration consider Black unemployment too high to ignore? Does it have to reach 17 percent, 18 percent? Does there have to be unrest in our nation’s cities and suburbs to get the administration’s attention? It is why we always thought jobs should have been the first priority of this administration, from Day One. The administration’s failure to move aggressively on the jobs front has also given his political opponents ample ammunition in the lead up to the November midterm election. While his opponents will use any excuse to denounce the President, and much of the criticism is racially bias, we do know that economic uncertainty is driving some white voters to the Republican Party. If whites are disillusioned with the President, what does the administration think is going on in the minds of Blacks?