02/04/2013 11:40 am ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Let Me Be Clear: Congress is the Problem

It is funny sometimes to hear what other people think they heard you say.

Over the past week, dozens of outlets have run headlines along the lines of: "NAACP Leader: Blacks 'Doing Far Worse' Under Obama."

But here's the problem: those aren't my words.

I may be old fashioned, but the former newspaper editor in me still believes that quotes should reflect what someone actually said. And, more importantly, the organizer in me is concerned that the misquotation - Freudian or forced - is encouraging some to miss the point.

Here is what I actually said about the economy, on Meet the Press last Sunday:

"Look, we know how to get out of tough times. We got out of the Great Depression by investing in what we wanted to be as a country, by investing in jobs rather than focusing on our fears.

I would push back and say that the big issues of this day also include marriage equality. They include comprehensive immigration reform. They include making sure that we lift all boats.

Right now when you look at joblessness in this country, you know, the country is back to pretty much where it was when this president started. White people in this country are doing a bit better. Black folks are doing a full point worse when it comes to [unemployment]. And so with this president having said to us we need to invest in strategies to lift all boats, now that some boats are clearly more stuck, the question is: Will Congress join him in getting those boats unstuck too?"

Here are the facts behind my statement:

  • When President Obama took office in 2009 the unemployment rate was 7.8% nationally, 7.1% for whites and 12.7% for blacks. Last December, unemployment was once again 7.8% nationally, but it stood at 6.9% for whites and 14% for blacks.
  • This increase in black unemployment is partly due to major cuts in public employment at the state and local level in recent years.
  • At the national level, this trend has been driven by a Congress that has for the past two years repeatedly refused to pass reforms that promised to spur job growth in the public and private sector, including the President's American Jobs Act and the Congressional Black Caucus' "10-20-30 Plan".
The failure of the 112th Congress to act is truly one for the history books. Even the famous "Do Nothing Congress" (the 80th Congress of 1947-1948) passed 906 bills into law. In contrast, the 2011-2012 Congress passed only 219 laws - and six of those dealt with commemorative coins. If Congress can get its act together this year, our country can increase job creation right now and ensure that every community's needs are addressed. Last year President Obama introduced the American Jobs Act, a multi-billion dollar plan to create hundreds of thousands of jobs while investing in our future. The plan would modernize schools, make critical improvements to our roads and bridges, and fix up foreclosed homes and businesses. Moreover, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman James Clyburn has promoted his "10-20-30 Plan" for future government spending that would help make sure that we truly "lift all boats". Under his plan, 10 percent of all federal resources would go to communities where 20 percent of the population has lived under the federal poverty line for 30 years or more. The 113th Congress has just started. As I said on Meet the Press, "We know how to get out of tough that some boats are clearly more stuck, the question is: Will Congress join [President Obama] in getting those boats unstuck too?" If I were a betting man, I would say "Probably not."

But I am not a betting man.

I, like hundreds of thousands of others in the NAACP and other great organizations, am an organizer. And as an organizer I believe that the American people are capable of making our own odds.

Our nation is a democracy, and fundamentally that means that Congress works for us - We, the People. As their bosses, as citizens, our job right now is clear: to ensure that Congressional leaders do their jobs and lead our nation out of economic trouble rather than continuing to stall and force us back into a crisis.

To be clear, President Obama works for us too and we must be equally prepared to hold him fully accountable. But when it comes to job creation, Congressional obstructionists are the problem. Now it is time for We, the People, to rise up, raise our voices, and make them get out of the way.

We have done it before. The ultimate question is whether we will come together and ensure that it happens again.