Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday publicly accused the Obama administration of failing to adequately address a veritable epidemic of African American unemployment.
"Can you imagine a situation where any other group of workers, if 34 percent of white women were out there looking for work and couldn't find it?" asked Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat and chairman of the caucus. "You would see congressional hearings and community gatherings. There would be rallies and protest marches. There is no way that this would be allowed to stand."
In May, the black unemployment rate was at 16.2 percent compared to 9.1 percent overall joblessness and 8 percent levels among white workers. In Milwaukee, Wis., a staggering 34 percent of black men are unemployed, CBS news reported.
The Obama administration has focused on broad-based initiatives aimed at lowering unemployment in general, while declining to address elevated rates among minority groups. The administration unleashed an $800 billion package of spending measures aimed at stimulating economic growth, while extending unemployment benefits and increasing funding for community health centers. These programs are also sure to help black and Latino Americans hard hit by the recession, Obama said at a White House press conference in April.
Debate about the ability of a universal job creation strategy to address persistent and disproportionate African American unemployment occupied a significant portion of Thursday's gathering. So too did concerns about the political feasibility of any sort of effort to target black joblessness, the public's appetite for programs that may look and sound like affirmative action and common assumptions about why so many black people do not have jobs. Black Americans make up about 12 percent of the nation's population, but about 20 percent of the unemployed.
"This is an American crisis that demands an American response at the highest echelons of our government," said Michael Eric Dyson, a writer, Georgetown University professor and frequent social and political commentator on television and radio programs aimed at a black audiences. "And that does include the White House."
In March, the White House's chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, told The Huffington Post that it seemed virtually impossible that the White House would be able to wrestle any additional spending -- including spending to create jobs -- out of Congress.
Goolsbee announced in June that he will leave the White House and return to a teaching position at the University of Chicago. Some economists have speculated that Goolsbee has been frustrated by the fact that any and all spending -- even spending that might create jobs -- has been shelved.
At Thursday's gathering Dyson and the Reverend Jessee Jackson indicated that it was time for members of Congress and African American voters to make more specific calls for political action in Congress and at The White House. Concerns about offending or politically imperiling Obama were not reason enough to remain publicly silent about the black jobs crisis, Dyson said.
"As gay and Latino and other Americans have done, we have to leverage our political power and our voices to make this happen," Dyson said.
The Congressional Black Caucus also announced plans Thursday to launch a multi-state jobs tour. Beginning Aug. 8 in Cleveland, the caucus will host a series of job fairs and town hall meetings for the unemployed.