President’s jobs plan offers lifeline for Blacks

President Barack Obama holds up the American Jobs Act as he speaks at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. — AP PHOTO/GERRY BROOME

Summer jobs program, payroll tax cut could put many back to work


As the recession looms and families figure out how to pay the bills and keep their homes, no other segment of society has been hit harder than Black people. For more than 1.4 million African Americans, weeks have turned into months, and months into years.

It’s no secret, throughout President Barack Obama’s term in office, he has been criticized incessantly by pundits and those within the Congressional Black Caucus, who feel that he has not done enough to help African Americans in general.

So when he went before Congress last week with his $450 billion jobs bill, many wondered how this bill — providing it passes the GOP-controlled House intact — would significantly help people of color, particularly African Americans.

“It will be an extraordinary benefit to well over a million and half African American people…who are unemployed, because of the way the program is structured,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fatah, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s second congressional district. “It will provide benefits to the long-term unemployed. There is a tax benefit to a company that hires someone who has been unemployed for more than six months. The bill also focuses on veterans and there are parts of the program that will help young people who are out of work as well.”   

Here are some reasons why the president’s new Jobs Bill can help African Americans:

• The extension of unemployment insurance will benefit 1.4 million African- Americans and their families. At the same time, the president is proposing bipartisan reforms that will enable that — as these families continue to receive benefits — the program is better tailored to support re-employment for the long-term unemployed.

• Targeted support for the long-term unemployed could help the 1.4 million African-Americans who have been looking for work for more than six months: To help them in their search for work, the president is calling for a new tax credit for hiring the long- term unemployed.

• A commitment to rebuilding and revitalizing communities across the country will target investments to the communities hardest-hit by the recession. The president’s investments in infrastructure include a school construction initiative with a significant commitment to the largest urban school districts, an investment in revitalizing communities that have been devastated by foreclosures, and a new initiative to expand infrastructure employment opportunities for minorities, women, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

• Support for subsidized jobs and summer/year-round jobs for African-American youth — for whom unemployment is above 30 percent. In an environment with an unemployment rate of 32.4 percent for African-American youths, the president is proposing to build on successful programs like the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to create jobs and provide training for those hardest-hit by the recession.

• An extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut for nearly 20 million African-American workers. By extending the payroll tax cut for employees next year and expanding it to cut payroll taxes in half, the president’s plan will help increase the paychecks of nearly 20 million African-American workers.

The early response to the bill has been favorable amongst Blacks

, who had grown weary with the president throughout the years. Many felt he was indifferent to their needs.

Many hope the president’s Jobs Bill will translate into reduced misery for them over the coming months. While the country's unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent, Black unemployment has hit 16.7 percent, the highest since 1984. Unemployment among male blacks is at 18 percent, and black teens are unemployed at a rate of 46.5 percent.

“Particularly in the African-American community, which often times has been expected to flourish and thrive without any investment at all and have done so in spite of a lack of resources, I think this (jobs bill) will be something that will be welcomed in our community and will be significant,” said Cindy Bass, the nominee for City Council for the Eight District. “I think it will be beneficial when it comes to employment readiness and opening up job opportunities for people of color. More than we have seen in quit sometime."

Prominent African-Americans like Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express and Mayor Michael Nutter, quickly applauded the plan. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who has been one of the most vocal advocates for dealing more effectively with Black unemployment, was enthusiastic.

For the president, it was a welcome change in tone after a steady drumbeat of criticism from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who held their own job fairs and town hall meetings while protesting that Obama's jobs tour across America last month bypassed black communities.

The caucus' urban blitz cleared a path for the country's first Black president to act, Waters said.

"I can see that our handprint is all over it," Waters said of Obama's plan. "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."

The jobs plan was praised by Ralph Everett, president and chief executive of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan black think tank.

Although the president did not specifically mention high unemployment among blacks, black people "are sophisticated enough to understand" how their communities will benefit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Friday.

"Obviously there is a debate raging, saying that we should come out and say this expressly for the Black and Latino community," Kirk said. "But this president got elected spectacularly on his premise that we are not a black America, a brown America, a white America. We are one America."

The White House moved quickly to capitalize politically on the good will, emailing an extraordinary blast of supportive statements from elected officials, union leaders and interest groups within minutes after Obama spoke Thursday night.

On Friday, while the president pushed his American Jobs Act in Richmond, Va., his aides promoted targeted relief to Hispanics, teachers, police officers, construction workers, small businesses and others.

Administration officials said the plan would extend unemployment benefits and provide support for 1.4 million blacks who have been unemployed six months or longer. It also would provide summer and subsidized jobs for youth; help boost the paychecks of 20 million black workers through an extension and expansion of the payroll tax, and benefit, in some way, more than 100,000 black-owned small businesses.

"With over 16 percent of African-Americans out of work and over 1 million African-Americans out of work over six months, I think the president believes this is a serious problem and the onus is on us to do everything we can to tackle this," Danielle Gray, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.

White House adviser Valerie Jarrett promoted Obama's plan on Steve Harvey's syndicated morning radio show, saying it would help "every part of our country, but particularly those who are the most vulnerable, who have been struggling the hardest, who have been trying to make ends meet and all they need is a little help from their government."

A factor in the early enthusiasm in Obama's plan with blacks is that most accept that, as the country's first black president, there are limits to what he can do about their specific problems — especially as he heads into the 2012 campaign.

“Obviously the president cares about the African American community as he does all Americans,” said Fattah. “This bill will benefit the African American community and the broader community as whole, because the minute someone goes to work, they start spending money. And that’s what stimulates the economy. It will have significant benefits in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago and the likes. I think what the president has done is structure a program that deals with the hardest hit communities.” 


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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