Color me unsurprised. Obama has consistently stated that he believes a universal approach to economic policy will disproportionately help those in greatest need -- the "rising tide lifts all boats" approach that he and other liberals believe has a race-neutral face but racialized benefits. However, even by that standard, Obama has not taken aggressive action to reduce unemployment. Thus, to some degree, I think those leaders miss the point, because Obama's lack of action on jobs for low-skilled, urban Blacks is merely a subset of his lack of action on the jobs front in general. In part, this lack of action is due to the paralysis of Congressional action, especially in the Senate; but in part, it's also due to choices that Obama himself has made.
Now, that's his prerogative, and it's not unexpected, coming from a conservative Republican who chaired George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Yet it's baffling why a Democratic President in a deep recession would choose to re-appoint someone who has basically said that he thinks it's more important to guard against possible inflation some time in the future than to fight unemployment that is doing lasting economic damage right now.
A second obvious point where Obama didn't aggressively press against unemployment was, of course, the stimulus. One of his economic advisers, Christina Romer, suggested that it needed to be as much as $1.2 trillion at a time when forecasts expected unemployment to peak just above nine percent. Instead, Obama pushed for a stimulus that was 25% smaller, and found the country stuck in a much deeper economic hole.
Obama's aversion to the "T" word (seen in the health care debate as well) meant insufficient aid to states and cities and insufficient money for infrastructure projects and other things that could rapidly create jobs. This is not to say that the ARRA has not had a positive effect -- but 600,000 to 1.6 million jobs "created or saved" in a climate where 8.5 million jobs have been lost is a drop in the bucket, and it's a direct result of Obama not bidding higher from jump so that he could end up at a higher impact for his administration's signature legislation thus far.
So in my estimation, we have an administration that has pulled its punches on job creation at every turn, despite economic forecasts that say unemployment will still be above 8% in 2012, and now proudly trumpets a report that the economy will create a meager 95,000 jobs a month this year. Without a strong effort to address the unemployment crisis in general, there is no political space for targeted job creation efforts. Therefore it should be no surprise that black leaders came away from their meeting with the President empty-handed.
Crossposted from Race-Talk.
Mark Harris, Jr., is a Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute. He received his B.S. in Political Science from Howard University and recently completed a Master's in Public Administration at The Ohio State University. He is currently pursuing a Master's in City and Regional Planning at OSU. Mark previously worked as a community organizer, as an Americorps member with Columbus Housing Partnership, and for Columbus City Council.