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By Lauren Victoria Burke
“Like the rest of America, Black America, in the aggregate, is better off now than it was when I came into office,” said President Obama on December 19, in response to a question by Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent April Ryan.
What planet African Americans are doing “better off” on is unknown. What is known is that President Obama is about to leave office with African Americans in their worst economic situation since Ronald Reagan. A look at every key stat as President Obama starts his sixth year in office illustrates that.
Unemployment. The average Black unemployment under President Bush was 10 percent. The average under President Obama after six years is 14 percent. Black unemployment, “has always been double” [that of Whites] but it hasn’t always been 14 percent. The administration was silent when Black unemployment hit 16 percent – a 27-year high – in late 2011.
Poverty. The percentage of Blacks in poverty in 2009 was 25 percent; it is now 27 percent. The issue of poverty is rarely mentioned by the president or any members of his cabinet. Currently, more than 45 million people – 1 in 7 Americans – live below the poverty line.
The Black/White Wealth Gap. The wealth gap between Blacks and Whites in America is at a 24-year high. A December study by PEW Research Center revealed the average White household is worth $141,900, and the average Black household is worth $11,000. From 2010 to 2013, the median income for Black households plunged 9 percent.
Income inequality. “Between 2009 and 2012 the top one percent of Americans enjoyed 95 percent of all income gains, according to research from U.C. Berkeley,” reported The Atlantic. It was the worst since 1928. As income inequality has widened during President Obama’s time in office, the president has endorsed tax policy that has widened inequality, such as the Bush Tax cuts.
Education: The high school dropout rate has improved during the Obama administration. However, currently 42 percent of Black children attend high poverty schools, compared to only 6 percent of White students. The Department of Education’s change to Parent PLUS loans requirements cost HBCU’s more than $150 million and interrupted the educations of 28,000-plus HBCU students.
SBA Loans. In March 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that only 1.7 percent of $23 billion in SBA loans went to Black-owned businesses in 2013, the lowest loan of SBA lending to Black businesses on record. During the Bush presidency, the percentage of SBA loans to Black businesses was 8 percent – more than four times the Obama rate.
President Obama continued Bush’s economic policy by deciding not to allow the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010 and agreeing to make them permanent in 2013. While he did this Black civil rights leaders said nothing. Soon after, in the president’s budget, there were cuts to community block grants and a budget increase for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. President Obama’s support of the Bush tax cuts are support for “trickle down” economics — that is, a tax break for the top 1 percent. Billionaire Warren Buffett spoke against the Bush tax cuts. There would have been $4 trillion in additional revenue had the president simply let the Bush tax cuts expire.
In 2011, when Al Sharpton told CBS’ 60 Minutes that, “Obama already said he won’t do anything for Blacks, duh,” it signaled that Black civil rights leaders would not push the first Black president hard on Black issues. Sharpton has been in the White House 61 times since 2009, probably more than any member of Congress, including leadership, over that period. With that type of access to power one has to ask: Where are the positive policy results?
The good news is that President Obama has appointed more Black people as federal judges than any other president in American history. The federal prison population has decreased and the rate of Americans without health insurance has dropped, even with Republican governors in the South blocking the Affordable Care Act.
But the president appears to be unwilling to use the full power of his office to push targeted policy to assist African Americans as he has done for Latinos, gays and lesbians, and other groups.
As he spoke on December 19, President Obama said of African Americans that, “They’re working hard… They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college. But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.” Obama seems to understand the historic adversity Blacks have faced yet that understanding hasn’t translated into the hard mechanics of specific policy such as funding for summer jobs, budget increases for community block grants or substantial increases for Pell Grants or programs such as GearUp.
All segments of Black America seem willing to give President Obama a pass on his failure to deliver for African Americans.
Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.