The Big Question: Should Obama focus on black jobless rate?

Today's question:

Should President Barack Obama develop a plan to address unemployment among African-Americans as suggested by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus?

Julian Bond, former president of the NAACP, said:

Yes. Black joblessness typically is twice the white rate and signals deep distress in black communities. As a "special" problem it deserves a 'special' and targeted solution.

Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, said:

The president needs to focus on jobs for everyone

Creating jobs and lowering unemployment for everyone should be the president's top priority. Yes, the unemployment rate is even more alarming than that of the general public, but the solution — creating private-sector, sustainable jobs — will come from the same policies that promote economic growth and jobs for everyone.

The administration should focus on reducing barriers to employment; they could start by lowering taxes or creating deductions specifically for new hires. The administration thus far has failed to promote free trade agreements, but liberalizing trade would be one of the best ways to encourage growth and create jobs (without adding to our deficits). And while they are at it, the administration should tell Congress to forget creating another trillion-dollar healthcare entitlement program, which will add to our already mounting debt and could further stifle job creation, and promise not to pursue a cap-and-trade program which would be another job killer.

The president shouldn't target job creation toward specific groups, but should make spurring private employment across the board his administration's No. 1 priority.

Michael J. Wilson, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, said:

We need a massive jobs program to deal with the 17.2% unemployment rate (not the 10% fiction which excludes tens of thousands of unemployed workers for bureaucratic reasons).  And there is no way that a massive jobs program won’t have an impact on the African American community where the real rate is 24.7%.  The disparate impact faced by some populations in the Great Recession is for a wide variety of factors including race, age, geographical locale and occupation.  But to ignore the addition of higher unemployment to the extreme poverty that existed in many communities prior to the recession is to be more than “color blind”; it is to ignore the historic challenges of poverty that our nation still faces.  Some of us more than others.

Bill Press, political commentator, said:

The Congressional Black Caucus is right. Unemployment has hit the minority community especially hard and should get special attention from the Obama administration. As Congresswoman Barbara Lee argues, the best way to address it is by directing leftover TARP funds to new construction jobs that can start immediately.

Justin Raimondo, editorial director of AntiWar.com, said:

I see nothing wrong with that, but I don't think Obama understands what creates productive jobs, as opposed to government jobs, make-work "jobs," and military-related jobs. So right there you have a major problem. Our economic problems are only going to get worse, and Obama is going to get the blame — rightly, I believe — because his economic ideas are simply the same old pedestrian Keynesian nonsense, which has been disproven time and again, and which led to the present crisis in the first place.

African-American unemployment, however, has deeper roots, which I think people like Bill Cosby and Shelby Steele have addressed. What I think would be effective is for the president to market himself — yes, I know that's an odd formulation — as a role model. I mean, this guy is the president, he's African-American, and only he is in a position to really take on the culture of failure that is really at the core of the problem of black unemployment. To go out there and say: Achievement is cool, learning is cool, getting good grades is cool — and the whole "gangsta/thug" mentality is wrong, wrong, wrong. And not just do it on occasion, but constantly drum this message into his public persona. That's what's needed.

Major educational reforms are required, and yet the powerful teachers' unions are blocking them. If Obama would take these people on, and redefine teaching as much more than an economic sinecure, that would do a lot of good. We need to liberate schools, rather than Afghanistan or Iraq, and break the back of the pedagogical bureaucracy, which has a stranglehold on the system. We have such a wealth of untapped resources in this country, and yet the "credentialism" inherent in the bureaucracy has made it impossible to hook up with this tremendous resource. I would love to volunteer my skills in the public schools, and yet I am prevented from doing so because we have a government-granted monopoly that doesn't allow for competition: as in all government-related and -funded institutions, innovation is stifled, the market is abolished, and regimentation is the rule.

How about courses in economics that teach students how to manage their own finances? Why not have courses in entrepreneurship? In short, why not prepare students for life as it is actually lived, rather than pushing staid "academic" programs that don't suit the majority of students, whatever their race?

Again, the rigid thinking that underlies eductional "theory" and practice is just a reflection of the monopolistic conditions that prevail in this realm. Get rid of that, and you've unleashed the creative power and self-generated self-sustaining quest for useful knowledge that is inherent in all human beings.

John F. McManus, president of the John Birch Society, said:

The president's plan to address unemployment should be to have government get out of the way of those who want to produce goods. He shouldn't favor any particular ethnic group. America was built by entrepreneurs who didn't face the onerous taxation, regulations and controls that stifle our nation's producers today. History confirms that there is no other way to proceed for long-term solutions to the current economic crisis.

Dean Baker, Co-Drirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research , said:

This is a question as to whether President Obama is willing to take some political risk to do what is clearly right on economic and moral grounds. There are pockets of the country, like Detroit, where the unemployment rate is 25 percent or higher. For young minorities in these areas, the unemployment rate is near 50 percent. Even if we had some very successful jobs program for the country as a whole, young people in these areas would still find it almost impossible to get a job.

This means that if we don't have jobs programs specifically targeted to these pockets of high unemployment, many young people a disproportionate share of whom are African American, may go years with no job opportunities. In many cases, these people may never get back on their feet again even when the economy recovers. Years of prolonged unemployment may not only ruin their lives, but also the lives of their kids.

For this reason, it should just be commonsense to have jobs programs for the hardest hit areas. Workers can get paid to do tasks that may involve little training, such as cleaning up parks or painting public buildings, but ideally they can also be given the opportunity to develop skills that can open the door to higher paying jobs. Much of this may end up being wasteful in the sense that the work may produce much of value, but there is nothing more wasteful than seeing hundreds of thousands of young people shut out from opportunity because the people who run the economy messed up on their job.

Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, said:

Once more, President. Obama has been given the golden opportunity to boost his popularity. He could simply say no, and maintain that the time is past for targeting specific racial groups.

Bernie Quigley, political commentator, said:

I wouldn’t rule it out. They should focus where there is need and potential for growth to ride a wave of ascending economy; otherwise the money will be wasted. The money being spent here in northern New Hampshire does not seem to be having any effect. We are already at 2 percent unemployment and have a fairly benign economy. Jesse Jackson’s and members of the Black Caucus’s suggestion that money go to African-Americans does makes sense where there is a mature and useful African-American workforce like in Chicago, which can be advanced and amended and integrated into the greater economy. By which I mean that the spending should be regionalized to focus on need and potential. There should also be some reality-based thinking about triaging the economy. I grew up in Fall River, Mass., where there were over a hundred empty mills that had gone out of business in the Great Depression. Years later, many of the buildings went to practical secondary usage but the previous reality of immigrant labor working in cotton mills was over. The angel had passed and it did not come back. Detroit might be in the same situation today. Attempting to bring it back might be futile when there are other growth opportunities nearby. This entire project needs a face and it doesn’t have one. Colin Powell’s might work.

Hal Lewis, physicist and professor at UC Santa Barbara, said

For better or worse, Obama is President of the United States, black, white, and purple. If he starts down the road of discrimination he will lose even the minority of white votes that he now gets.

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