Black leaders intend to press Congress for minority hiring in jobs legislation

Black leaders said they'll push lawmakers to do more to create jobs for minorities after meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and National Urban League President Marc Morial came out of the Oval Office meeting stressing that the jobless rate for black workers is far higher than the 9.7 percent national unemployment rate. The January unemployment rate for blacks was 16.7 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.

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"It is not our desire to have a race-based formula but to have policy solutions that are mindful of the differences of those in the American public that are left out the most in their ability to feed their families and build their futures," said Sharpton, who attended the meeting as leader of his civil-rights group, National Action Network.

The group would "press Congress to add more targeted provisions to the jobs bill," Morial said.

Senate Democrats plan to meet Thursday to discuss a bill featuring a host of tax breaks aimed at getting small businesses to hire new workers and keep their current employees. Republicans have said they're open to the measure, which is expected to cost roughly $85 billion this year and another $19 billion next year, according to a draft of the bill.

Morial's National Urban League is pushing for a $168 billion stimulus that would fund New Deal-style public and nonprofit programs that directly hire workers. The plan also calls for loans and tax breaks for areas where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average.

“The crisis of unemployment and underemployment among urban and minority communities has reached a devastating level and it continues to deepen,” Morial said. “While the overall picture appears to be brightening, we cannot allow it to blind us to the worsening situation for black Americans."

The group met with Obama for nearly an hour and talked about "challenges facing economically disadvantaged communities" and administration efforts to provide support and opportunity, according to the White House.

Sharpton praised Obama for taking the meeting and said that the group plans to meet with House and Senate leaders to urge a greater "sensitivity."

"As one who has engaged in meetings with the past two presidents on issues of concern, I can say that this meeting was more substantive and candid than any I have participated in and it produced a firm commitment for results rather than 'feel good' proclamations," Sharpton said.