By DeWayne Wickham
On the day the Labor Department reported that March saw the biggest jump in monthly job creation in three years, President Obama toured a Charlotte business that is getting $49 million in federal aid to help grow its workforce.
“We are beginning to turn the corner,” Obama said of the good news he had gone there to tout. “This month, more Americans woke up, got dressed and headed to work at an office or factory or storefront. More folks are feeling the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with a hard-earned and well-deserved paycheck at the end of a long week of work.”
But instead of going to Charlotte to proclaim this jobs growth, the president should have gone to Harlem to explain why black workers are being left behind.
While the unemployment rate for white men dropped for the fifth straight month in March to 8.9 percent, it hit 19 percent for black men. That’s a sizeable 1.2 percentage point jump in a single month. During this same time, unemployment for black women also grew from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent, even as the jobless rate for white women held fast at 7.3 percent.
None of this seemed to register with Christina Romer, the president’s economic guru who echoed Obama’s upbeat analysis. The addition of 162,000 jobs in March showed “continued signs of gradual labor market healing,” she said, without acknowledging the racial schism in the turnaround. Instead, she offered this explanation for the conundrum of more people getting jobs while the unemployment rate stayed the same: “This stability reflects roughly proportional rises in the labor force and employment.”
That’s doublespeak. Left unsaid is this hard truth: The unemployment rate for blacks and whites is moving in different directions. The rate for blacks is trending up, while for whites it is trending down.
This harsh reality won’t change as long as the Obama administration thinks its “rising tide lifts all boats” approach to economic recovery is all that’s needed to solve the workplace problems of blacks, whose overall unemployment rate is significantly higher than that of whites, Hispanics or Asian Americans.
“The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again,” Obama told USA TODAY in a Dec. 3 interview. But now, four months later, it seems certain the president has to do more than that to close the yawning gap between blacks and whites.
If the White House continues with its laissez faire approach to black joblessness, the ripple effects will be devastating — and predictable. In the foreword to the National Urban League’s 2007 State of Black America report, then-Sen. Barack Obama bemoaned the condition of black men, including the high level of unemployment that afflicted them. “These hard facts also remind us that politics is not a game. The decisions we make and the challenges we ignore have real consequences,” he wrote.
Last month, Marc Morial, president of the Urban League, called for a targeted federal effort to reduce unemployment among blacks. “The government has bailed out Wall Street. It’s time to act swiftly and do something for Main Street, which includes a strong, focused jobs plan. There can be no true economic recovery in this country without addressing the dire jobs situation in urban America,” he said.
He’s right, and it’s time Barack Obama and his economic advisers admit it.