President Obama will hold his second Inauguration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, just across a grassy expanse from where Dr. King spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Just like Dr. King, President Obama will speak at a time of great inequality. He will speak at a time when the racial wealth divide is increasing and black unemployment is epidemic. Though he may tout America's slow recovery from a five-year recession, the truth is that black America is still mired in a decades-long recession. And black Americans expect the president to do something about it.
Ninety-three percent of African Americans voted for Barack Obama in November, and in many states that was enough to put him over the top. They voted on more than identity politics. In early November the NAACP took a poll of African-American voters in key swing states. When asked for their number-one concern at the ballot box, nearly two out of three respondents answered "jobs."
As a candidate Obama promised to focus on jobs. In direct contrast to his opponent, he pledged to lift all boats -- especially those boats that had gotten stuck in the mud. Now that he is about to begin his second term, the black community is watching to see how he will follow through.
At the beginning of his second term, President Obama should offer a politically viable program to create jobs where they are most needed. If he needs a place to start, his proposal can follow the "10-20-30" plan devised by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus: Ten percent of all federal resources should go to communities where 20 percent of the population has lived under the federal poverty line for 30 years or more.
President Obama has offered a similar initiative in the past. In September 2011 he convened a joint session of Congress to unveil the American Jobs Act. The plan provided, among other things, $30 billion to modernize public schools, $15 billion to fix up foreclosed homes and businesses and $10 billion to create a National Infrastructure Bank. Though it was rejected by a gridlocked Congress, the initiative invested in our future while helping our country's most vulnerable communities.
A broad jobs plan is an important step, but President Obama needs to go further. He needs to talk about that 20 percent in the "10-20-30" plan who live in persistent poverty. He needs to ask why there are so many communities of the chronically unemployed and underemployed -- and why these disparities continue to fall along racial lines. In order to do that, he should address what can be called "employment discrimination 2.0."
We all know that employers cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of race or gender when they apply to a job, but in many states employers can discriminate against applicants who are currently unemployed, who have a low credit score or who have a criminal conviction on their record. This feeds the vicious circle of unemployment by hitting people when they are already down.
"Employment discrimination 2.0" is especially devastating for black communities because so many black workers are already down. African Americans are more likely to be unemployed (for longer) and more likely to have a low credit score -- no surprise, given that many black children are born into poverty. And thanks to a racially biased criminal justice system, black men and women are disproportionately represented in our nation's jails and prisons.
If President Obama wants to fulfill has campaign promise to lift all boats, he can start by challenging "employment discrimination 2.0." The American Jobs Act called for a ban on discrimination against the unemployed. President Obama should use his bully pulpit to bring this idea back, and to speak more broadly about all three forms of discrimination. Moreover, he should ask for a review of the various agencies of the federal government to ensure that their personnel practices are as inclusive as possible.
When it comes to job creation, the president can get little done without a willing Congress, but when it comes to fighting discrimination, his administration has far more leeway. In the 50 years since the March on Washington, one sad fact hasn't changed: If you are black in America, ending discrimination is just as important as investing in jobs.
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post that closely examines the most pressing challenges facing President Obama in his second term. To read the companion article by HuffPost's Janell Ross, click here. To read the companion blog post by Gregory D. Squires of the George Washington University, click here. To read all the other posts in the series, click here.
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