The Congressional Black Caucus’ “For the People” jobs initiative — a series of town halls and job fairs in five cities hard hit by the economic downturn — shined a light on the caucus in a way we haven’t seen in years.
theGrio had a unique vantage point on the tour, having streamed all five stops and having sent correspondents to moderate each of the town halls.
After California Rep. Maxine Waters’ outburst in Detroit, the second stop on the tour, in which she called on black people to “unleash” the CBC to get tough with President Barack Obama over what several caucus members, including Waters and fellow California Rep. Laura Richardson, New Orleans-area Rep. Cedric Richmond and others have called is a lack of focus on black joblessness, the media, and the country, started paying attention.
What we heard was a consistent complaint from the CBC that the president was spending more time in rural towns in Iowa than in the black community; that the White House was shrinking from addressing black communities by name; and that the president and his team weren’t pursuing the kinds of “targeted” — meaning targeted at poor and black communities — economic remedies the CBC supports.
We also heard that the caucus has put forward more than 40 bills to deal with the 16 percent and higher jobless rates in predominantly black communities.
What we didn’t hear, is that not only have none of those bills become law, none will likely come to a vote — not while there are 42 Black Caucus members and 87 Tea Party freshmen, and a Speaker of the House who feels emboldened to publicly reject an offer by the president of the United States to address a joint session of Congress.
So now that the jobs tour is over, the Caucus’ constituents should ask what comes next.
Has the CBC collected data from its tour to quantify how many people actually got jobs?
Did the questions and concerns they heard in Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles give the CBC a special perspective not just on the “hurt” that members described, over long term unemployment, tea party obstructionism, and what they perceive as a lack of attention from the White House, but also on solutions to those problems?
The inconvenient truth about black joblessness is that it didn’t start on January 20, 2009, with the inauguration of Barack Obama as president.
Many of the districts CBC members represent have been suffering under the yoke of economic misery, high unemployment, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and economic stagnation for decades — even generations.
Black unemployment hit 13-14 percent in the mid-1970s (when white unemployment was around 4.5 percent) and stayed there, until it jumped above 18 percent in the 1980s, and peaked at 21 percent in 1983. Even when it fell back to around 14 percent during the mid-1980s, the black jobless rate didn’t fall below 10 percent until 1997.
And during the Bill Clinton years, which were the best years for black employment in a generation, black unemployment was more than twice the overall jobless rate, falling to 7.0 percent by April 2000, when white unemployment was 3.4 percent and Hispanic unemployment was 5.5 percent.
By the time George W. Bush left office, black unemployment was back up to 12.7 percent and rising, as the Great Recession tore the heart out of the black middle and lower middle class.
In other words: this is not a new problem. And it’s one that’s going to take solutions that start from the ground up.
So having toured the country, fielded the concerns of black people, and felt their pain, the caucus should take the next logical step: they should come out with a comprehensive jobs plan of their own.
It’s not enough to call for “leadership from the top.” The constitutional reality is that any bill related to the nation’s finances that the president could sign must come from the House of Representatives, and then get through the Senate.
The president can use the bully pulpit to push for legislation but he can’t pass it. The CBC should give the president something specific to push.
Next Thursday, President Obama will make a proposal to the nation on how he thinks job growth can be restored.
The caucus shouldn’t wait until then.
They should release their jobs plan now, based on what they learned on their month-long jobs tour. They should quantify what their constituents need from Washington. They should also spell out how their plan could attract enough support from Republicans to pass the House with the required 218 votes. They should list the potential obstacles to getting their plan through. And they should detail what, specifically; they’d like the president to do to help make their plan a reality, or at least part of the negotiation to come.
Otherwise, what happened in August was more show than substance, and it won’t matter to the people who “unleashed” the CBC in Detroit.