Johnathan Allen - Just hours before President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on his jobs plan, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is demanding the nation’s first African-American president prove he cares as much about unemployed blacks as he does about Iowa’s swing voters.
“There are roughly 3 million African Americans out of work today, a number nearly equal to the entire population of Iowa. I would suggest that if the entire population of Iowa, a key state on the electoral map and a place that served as a stop on the president’s jobs bus tour were unemployed, they would be mentioned in the president’s speech and be the beneficiary of targeted public policy,” Waters said in a statement to POLITICO on Thursday.
“So, one question to be answered this evening is, are the unemployed in the African-American community, including almost 45 percent of its youth, as important as the people of Iowa?” Waters asked.
In recent weeks, Waters and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have become increasingly critical of the president’s economic performance and have publicly called on him to focus on black unemployment.
Last week, the Labor Department reported that black unemployment — already well above the 9.1 percent national average — had a large one-month jump of 0.8 percent, to 16.7 percent in August from 15.9 percent in July. It’s the highest level of African-American joblessness in 27 years.
“This evening, as the President speaks to the nation about his plan to create jobs, he must acknowledge the economic disaster in the African American community, whose unemployment rate hovers at roughly 16.7 percent, almost double that of the general population and equal to depression-era levels. He must then articulate how the plan he puts forth will target the communities with the highest rates of unemployment, including the African American community,” Waters said.
With Obama unlikely to win the support of Republican lawmakers for his jobs proposal, any Democratic efforts to paint the GOP as obstructionist could be undermined by black lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with the president’s plan.
Perhaps no black lawmaker has been as vocal as Waters in criticizing the president on employment matters. But she has long been popular in her Los Angeles district, and may feel that she has more freedom to push Obama without risking a backlash from African-American voters who flinch at the prospect of hurting him politically. In particular, Waters’ statement takes Obama to task for failing to target aid specifically to high-unemployment areas, which she says would improve the lot of poor black, white and Latino communities across the country.“It is time for us all to acknowledge that a rising tide does not lift all boats,” Waters said. “To be clear, I am not advocating for a ‘Black Jobs’ program. Rather, I am advocating for an approach that uses targeting to areas with high unemployment and poverty as a guiding principle in the design and disbursement of any new programs, tax cuts or emergency assistance. Such strategic allocation could have a net-positive impact on the unemployment rates in communities of color, and the country as a whole.”
Waters cites Franklin Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority law, which created infrastructure-building jobs in a hardscrabble part of the country during the Depression-era 1930s.“For example, if the President and Congress were to create an infrastructure bank, we could use small, women-owned, minority-owned and community banks, which disproportionately serve communities of color, to make loans for infrastructure projects with local hiring requirements, rather than the large financial institutions who are disconnected from communities and through the bailout, have shown an unwillingness to lend,” Waters said.
“Additionally, the President and Congress could create a tax-credit, similar to credits suggested for hiring veterans, which would incentivize companies to hire persons from areas of high unemployment. Finally, the President and Congress could target federal dollars to states and localities with high rates of unemployment and poverty to hire teachers, police and firemen.
“Just as Roosevelt recognized the need in rural areas then, the President must recognize the need in urban communities now. These Americans, deserve no less,” Waters added.
“[T]here are those, who believe that the President, because he is black, cannot talk specifically about issues directly impacting the black community, like high unemployment. They suggest that doing so would endanger the President’s chances of being re-elected. I share the desire to re-elect the first black President,” her statement continued.
“But, I would offer a slightly different analysis. If the unemployment rates in the African American Community continue to climb, like they did in August by almost a full percentage point, those African American voters who came out to the polls for the first time in 2008 but who have since lost their home and/or their job, may not return to the polls. Therefore, targeting public policy to a community who accounted for 13 percent of the electorate in ‘08, and who is now experiencing the culmination of a decade of economic crisis, is not just good policy, but good politics.