Obama calls today ‘best of times and worst of times’ for blacks

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 27:  A job seeker fills out a registration form as he waits to enter the San Francisco Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitcomb on March 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California. As the national unemployment rate stands at 8.3 percent, job seekers turned out to meet with recruiters at the San Francisco Hirevent job fair where hundreds of jobs were available.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 27: A job seeker fills out a registration form as he waits to enter the San Francisco Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitcomb on March 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California. As the national unemployment rate stands at 8.3 percent, job seekers turned out to meet with recruiters at the San Francisco Hirevent job fair where hundreds of jobs were available. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama said, “these are both the best of times and the worst of times” for African-Americans in a radio interview Thursday with the Rev. Al Sharpton, contrasting the great opportunities available to some blacks with the continued effects of the recession for many others.

“These are both the best of times  and worst of times for the African-American community. I think if you work hard and you have opportunity and you’re able to take advantage of it … you know the sky’s the limit for African-Americans in our country in a way that just wasn’t true a generation ago,” he told Sharpton. “On the other hand, the lingering effects of the Great Recession means there’s a  whole lot of people in a whole lot of communities that are still struggling.”

The interview was one of the three Obama conducted with black radio hosts on Thursday, part of an overall media blitz to pressure Republicans in Congress to delay $85 billion in budget cuts known as sequestration that will go into effect starting on March 1. He also spoke with Yolanda Adams and Joe Madison. (Those sessions have not been broadcast yet.)

In his discussion with Sharpton, Obama also spoke about watching his daughters learn more about the Civil Rights Movement during Black History Month.

“You know one of the things that’s most valuable for me is to watch the next generation absorb history that you and I may take for granted, but for young people is fresh and new,” he said. “So when I see Malia and Sasha taking time to read more about not just Rosa Parks and Dr. King, but Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer and Charles Houston and all the other people who laid the foundation and the ground work for the Civil Rights Movement, I think that is very powerful.”

On the budget cuts, he repeated familiar themes, laying out his plan for balancing cuts in spending with tax increases for the wealthy to reduce the federal budget deficit.

“When you look at polling, 75 percent of the American people agree with me that to reduce our deficit sensibly is through a combination of spending cuts and  tax revenue, and if we spread that out over several years, it wouldn’t have a bad impact on our economy. In fact it would strengthen our economy by putting us on a more stable financial footing,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think Republicans are so dug in on this notion of never raising taxes it becomes difficult for them to see an obvious answer right in front of them.”