Conservative games in Washington played at the expense of the vulnerable

OPINION - The American people need House Republican leaders to stop playing political games with their livelihoods and pass a budget that strengthens economic growth and job creation...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Instead of allowing Congress to pass targeted, large, and progressive policies that have been shown to boost economic growth and job creation, a radical conservative minority has instead repeatedly gambled with the country’s economic health and with it the livelihoods of many Americans, particularly communities of color, which are, according to the Center for American Progress’ recent report, The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy, still in a fragile state from the setbacks caused by the Great Recession in 2007.

This dangerous and obstructionist gamesmanship was done all in the name of undoing the Affordable Health Care Act, or ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, which House Republicans have voted to dismantle 46 times and forced the recent two-week federal government shutdown, despite the fact the law is already helping millions of uninsured and underinsured American families. The impacts of the actions of this radical minority are especially detrimental to communities of color who stand to gain significantly from a fully implemented and funded health care law.

Americans need and want health insurance. Nearly 50 million Americans—47.9 million, to be exact—were without health insurance at some point in 2012, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Among this population, 19 percent of African-Americans had no health insurance in 2012, compared to 11.1 percent of white Americans. House Republicans intent on destroying Obamacare—which is already providing 7.3 million African Americans with access to preventive health services and will provide an estimated 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans with access to health insurance—could further put communities of color behind whites in terms of economic security.

According to The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy, so many Americans still face high-economic insecurity and desperately need jobs. The unemployment rate, for instance, stood at 7.3 percent in August 2013—50 months into the recovery—and when compared to past recessions, has never been this high this far into an economic recovery. Moreover, the unemployment rate for African-Americans was twice that of whites in the third quarter of 2013, 12.8 percent compared to 6.4 percent. Also, the employed share was only 53.3 percent for African-Americans, but was 59.4 percent for whites, meaning that while job growth is moving slower than the American people want and has failed to keep pace with population growth, African Americans saw fewer gains from the economic recovery than whites.

The report examines how continued weak recovery feeds into widespread economic insecurity. Four years into the recovery, mortgage foreclosure and delinquency rates remain relatively high by historical standards, household debt still exceeds after-tax income, and the homeownership rate is still at levels as low as they were in 1995. Even more sobering is the fact that most of these measures are worse for communities of color than for whites. As of the second quarter of 2013, the homeownership rate was 73.3 percent for whites, while only 42.9 percent of African Americans were homeowners.

The data analyzed in The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy suggest that millions of Americans lack economic security because of the weak recovery, but they also indicate that policymakers can influence the direction in which the economy moves. Progressive, targeted, and substantial policies, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, helped the economy avoid another Great Depression, and subsequent temporary payroll tax cuts targeting middle-class workers can help improve the lives of communities of color by creating desperately needed jobs. That is, targeted policies to create more and better jobs, especially in African American communities, in addition to continuing the implementation of Obamacare, can have a measurable impact on the economic security of American families. All that is missing is sufficient political will to tackle the nation’s meager economic growth and a subpar labor-market expansion.

Unfortunately, fiscal brinkmanship—seemingly the favorite sport of congressional radicals – not only doesn’t help, it has created enormous economic uncertainty that has slowed investment and hiring.

And while a deal to fund the government through January 15, 2014 and raise the debt ceiling (the maximum amount the federal government can borrow without congressional approval) through February 2014, finally reopened the government, it also opens the door to the possibility of yet two more manufactured crises in the coming months – one over funding government operations and another over the debt ceiling—that could again suck up what little political energy exists on the Hill.

The American people need House Republican leaders to stop playing political games with their livelihoods and pass a budget that strengthens economic growth and job creation. America’s middle class and especially communities of color deserve at least that much from their elected representatives.

Dr. Christian E. Weller is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and a professor of public policy at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Farah Ahmad is a Policy Analyst for Progress 2050 at American Progress.