Black Lawmakers Hope the President Will Include a Focus on African-American Unemployment

News Article

By:  Karen Bass
Date: July 24, 2013
Location: Unknown

After a long week spent focused largely on the George Zimmerman verdict and conversations about race, President Obama wants to pivot the nation's attention back to the economy. On Wednesday, he will embark on a three-speech tour to jumpstart and tout his agenda before congressional Republicans return home for the August recess and a month of town hall meetings aimed at countering the president's message.

His first stop is in Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he delivered his first major speech after winning election to the U.S. Senate.

A lot has changed since Obama last spoke in Galesburg. Unemployment was at 5.1 percent compared to the current rate of 7.6 percent. The number of unemployed Americans has skyrocketed from 7.5 million to 12 million. Detroit, a major American city, has gone bankrupt.

"I'm going to talk about where we need to go from here. How we need to put behind us the distractions and the phony debates and nonsense that somehow passes for politics these days and get back to basics," Obama said at an Organizing for Action event earlier this week. "Refocus on what it is that everybody is talking about around the kitchen table, what people are talking about day to day with their families."

The president said the speech will also kick off a months-long effort to explore "some big and bold ideas, some of which I've offered in the past, some of which will be new but allow us to consistently, steadily make progress."

African-American lawmakers responding to the Zimmerman verdict and the unprecedentedly high level of crime crushing urban centers, have repeatedly cited the nearly double unemployment rate and other economic disparities as major contributors. They're hoping that when the president speaks Wednesday and later in the week in Missouri and Florida he will offer solutions to mitigate those problems.

"I'm hoping to hear that he's going to continue to fight for the American Jobs Act because there are very specific components that will assist African-American communities," Caliifornia Rep. Karen Bass told "There's a component to rehab houses and in all of our communities we're dealing with foreclosures. There are also provisions for job training and jobs for youth. So those three areas alone are very significant and will have a very positive impact in the African-American community."

People need to be reminded about the bill's existence, Bass added, and that Republicans chose to block it.

Rep. Gwen Moore would like to hear him talk about Promise Neighborhoods and more targeted approaches, such as an initiative promoted by the Congressional Black Caucus that would provide funding, resources and economic opportunity to communities identified by Census tracts as having the lowest incomes.

"It would really reward communities, urban or rural, where there's high poverty," the Wisconsin lawmaker said.

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison also wants Obama to address African-American unemployment in a more targeted way.

"African-Americans are hit by unemployment and wage stagnation more than anyone. So I think it would make a whole lot of sense to do some things to directly affect African-American unemployment," Ellison said. "He needs to speak to the issue and then talk about what we're going to do about it."

Ellison believes that infrastructure projects and a solid minority procurement and apprentice program would help a lot of African-Americans.

He and other lawmakers also hope that Obama will finally comment on the plight of Detroit.

"Detroit's failure has implications for a lot of urban areas," Ellison said.

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