President Obama unveiled his $447 billion plan to put America back to work, the “American Jobs Act,” last night before a joint session of Congress. Although no legislation was introduced, Obama told Congress to pass his jobs package “right away.”
An embargoed excerpt from the speech stimulated my concern that Obama would not give voice to the racial gap in employment:
I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything. (Emphasis added)
I knew then Obama was not going to adopt the Congressional Black Caucus’ recommendation and acknowledge black Americans’ pain. In a letter to the President, CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II wrote:
Acknowledge the depression-like unemployment crisis in the African American Community and articulate a targeted approach for job creation to ensure that communities with unique needs are assisted in a direct and comprehensive fashion.
Still, I tuned in. Obama did not predict how many jobs his plan would create. But if the past is prologue, infrastructure spending will put few African Americans back to work.
Consider: In February 2009, Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus bill. That month, the black unemployment rate was 13.4 percent. Today, the black jobless rate is 16.7 percent.
Consider also that African Americans represent roughly five percent of construction workers. So I question whether the proposed $80 billion in infrastructure spending will create jobs for “communities with unique needs.”
As for the impact of stimulus infrastructure spending on black-owned businesses, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity reported:
Overall, Black-owned businesses have received a proportionately lower number and dollar value of federal stimulus contracts when compared with other businesses.
In Philadelphia, for instance, few minority-owned businesses received stimulus contracts. The School District of Philadelphia’s record was so bad that then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman stepped in. Ackerman’s efforts to increase opportunities for minority-owned businesses triggered an investigation. She has since been fired.
The bottom line: Time will tell whether Obama’s job-creation plan will lift all boats.