President Obama has been on a pre-holiday media blitz, with radio and TV interviews. This week he spoke to radio personalities Tom Joyner and April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks. During her interview, Ryan asked the President about the Congressional Black Caucus campaign for the White House to enact policies to specifically lower the Black unemployment rate (which, at 15.7 percent, is higher than the national average).
As is his customary response to this question, the President acknowledged racial disparities but ultimately downplayed the need for targeted programs. "What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need," Obama said. "That in turn is going to help lift up the African-American community."
This answer may be disappointing to some Black leaders who want the President to take a more active role in rectifying employment disparities, but there are some who agree with his position. (It's not talked about as much because "Black people are mad at Obama!" is probably a more provocative angle.)
Here's what NAACP President Ben Jealous told me recently about the civil right's organization's push for a stronger response to the national jobs crisis.
CYNTHIA: Do you think there should be targeted policies implemented to address Black communities specifically?
BEN JEALOUS: Those communities that are hurting are diverse. If we paint this as being an issue that's just about Black America, then we lose and the country loses. Now that national unemployment is 9.5 percent--and the unemployment rate for older Americans, younger Americans and Latino Americans is equal to, or greater than, that of Blacks as a whole--getting extra help for extra hurt means getting extra help for everybody. There's a lot of extra hurt going around right now. And what is good for the country will be good for the Black community when it comes to job creation.
CYNTHIA: But with discrimination in employment and housing, and discrimination against the formerly incarcerated, general policies often don't reach African-Americans. The trickle down theory doesn't really apply.
JEALOUS: It's not about trickling down. When you're talking about direct job creation in the public sector, you're talking about directly helping Black people. We're disproportionately represented in the public sector, and in local economies we're disproportionately represented in the retail sector. What we've gone through with bailing out the banks, that's trickle down. We're saying you've got to go beyond that and go straight to the roots.
Absolutely we're saying the towns with the worst unemployment rate need to be the top priority. But while those towns are disproportionately Black towns, they're not exclusively Black towns--they exist in Alabama, and in Maine and Appalachia. If we're going to get this, we're going to get it because the country decides, first and foremost, that it's good for the country.
You can read here the rest of what Jealous said, particularly on the NAACP's focus on fighting discrimination. What do you think about his approach to job creation across the board?