In a meeting that many in the African-American community considered a long time coming, President Obama met with black leaders today to discuss the impact of the recession and job losses on people of color. With black unemployment at 16.5 percent and 34.5 percent for black men between the ages of 16 and 24 — joblessness has actually increased for African-Americans at a time when it appears to be going down for everyone else.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network all attended today’s hour-long meeting at the White House. Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, was scheduled to be a part there, as well, but had to bow out because of the snowstorm.
Those who did attend left singing the president’s praises, complimenting his engagement and his efforts thus far to resuscitate the economy while suggesting this was only the beginning of a much larger push to see an “inclusive” jobs bill passed in the Senate.
“The president is not our primary target,” said NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, who argued that Republican obstructionism in Congress is far more responsible for stalling real action on job creation than Obama. Armed with a six-point jobs plan put together by Morial’s Urban League, the three leaders spoke with Obama about the impact the economic downturn has had on black communities and the ever-widening disparity of unemployment within communities of color compared to the rest of the country.
“The Great Recesssion has affected all Americans but it has also disproportionately affected African-Americans, Latinos — people living in urban areas. I’m often asked why that is,” said Morial. “These communities I’m referring to never recovered from the 2001 recession.” In other words, African-Americans are now enduring their second jobless recovery in a decade.
On a phone call with reporters after the Obama meeting, all three attendees complimented the president’s emphasis on jobs and economic growth.
“The president has not gotten his just due for the actions his administration has taken in the last year to try to stem the crisis in this country when it comes to job,” said Morial.
However, Morial also said that while the stimulus bill had a positive impact, “it was not a panacea; it was not a magic pill and it did not constitute a magic wand.” Morial and his colleagues say that a real recovery will take several steps not just one single piece or a few pieces of legislation.
Amongst all three leaders, there was enthusiasm for the jobs bill that has already passed the House. They said that now the hard part is to try to retain some of the best elements from that bill in the upcoming Senate version. Among the moves Obama has made that won plaudits from Morial was his initiative to expand SBA community loans. “That was a direct result of our efforts,” said Morial, who pointed out that organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus have had some success so far in shaping legislation so that it has the best direct effect on communities in need.
While there were no specific policies or presidential promises to emerge from today’s meeting, Sharpton emphasized the fact that until now, African-American leaders have yet to have any substantive involvement in the job creation conversation. He said the meeting today was a positive advance, and he said he hopes leaders in the black community can continue to be a part of the discussion in much the same way that business and labor leaders have participated throughout President Obama’s administration. Sharpton, Morial and Jealous all admit that achieving a real legislative victory will be an uphill battle in the face of stalwart GOP opposition.
“We’re not asking for a race-based [job] bill,” said Sharpton. “But we’re also saying that we can’t be excluded and we can’t act like we don’t have more to lose since we are the ones who are presently the biggest losers in the economic arrangement.”
WATCH AL SHARPTON AND BENJAMIN JEALOUS ON HARDBALL DISCUSSING MEETING WITH OBAMA AND THE ECONOMY: