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We Must Tackle The African American Jobs Crisis

Five years after Recovery Act, black unemployment largely unchanged

The White House Council of Economic Advisers marked the fifth anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act earlier this week with its release of the 2014 Annual Economic Report of the President.

The CEA cited “the progress that has been made in recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and President Obama’s agenda to build on this progress by creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity.”

Conservatives like House Speaker John Boehner still attempt to paint the $832 billion stimulus package as a “classic case of big promises and big spending with little results.” We all now know, however, our economy would have been totally shattered without the act, taking as long as a generation to repair. The report stated that as of 2014, “the economic landscape looks vastly different: total output has grown for 11 consecutive quarters, businesses have added 8.5 million jobs since February 2010, and a range of analysts are optimistic that the economy will further strengthen in the years ahead.”  Beyond the  Recovery Act, the CEA maintains, the president has signed more than a dozen additional fiscal measures to create jobs and strengthen the economy, including the payroll tax cut, small business tax cuts, incentives for infrastructure, and extended unemployment insurance.

As such, Obama should take full credit for placing our nation on the path to recovery. With that said, however, the employment status of African Americans is abysmal,  remaining largely unchanged for over the past half decade. And quite frankly, we must tackle this African American job crisis with great urgency.

RELATED: Read more on Black Unemployment here

Just check out the stats from February 2009 – the month when ARRA was enacted – to February 2014, the month reflected in last Friday’s jobs report. In February 2009, the  unemployment rate for all Americans and that of whites had been 8.3% and 7.3%, respectively, while the rate for African Americans stood at 13.8%. Five years later, the overall jobless rate has fallen to 6.7% and the rate for whites has dropped to 5.8%. The African American unemployment rate, still twice that of our white counterparts, has moved little at 12%. Black teen unemployment persists at a staggering level close to 40%.

Within that five-year period, black unemployment reached its highest point in August 2011 at 16.7% – the worst figure in a quarter century – outpacing the nation at 9.1% and worse than all other ethnic groups. During this period, white unemployment was at 8%. What has made this scenario even more dire is the fact that the black joblessness figure doesn’t  include masses of discouraged workers.

Washington gridlock has been – and continues to be – one of the prime culprits for locking millions out of the job market. The president has presented proposals like the American Jobs Act and the infrastructure bank to a Republican-controlled, hyper-partisan House. Of course, such measures were DOA. Moreover, Congress fails to act on extending unemployment benefits to more than 2 million long-term job hunters and another 72,000 per week, refusing to provide much-needed aid to struggling families while depressing economic demand. Expect the same fate to befall Obama’s recently-released FY 2015 budget plan, which includes spending on initiatives like advanced manufacturing, job training and public works projects. More training and employment options from the public and private sectors always lifts more boats.

Over the past few years, Obama has been questioned and criticized for not having a comprehensive urban program with a focus on jobs creation that would directly impact blacks and other minorities. In fact, African American civil rights leaders including National Urban League CEO Marc Morial and National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton have held meetings with the president and presented him with a formal agenda: 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom. The document advocates, among many initiatives, passage of the Urban Jobs Act authored by Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

In his ”Year of Action,” we are also waiting to see if executive action from the Oval office will yield results. In early January, the administration launched ”Promise Zones” in five cities, including Los Angeles and Philadelphia, to generate jobs and combat poverty.

Against this backdrop, it has become abundantly clear that we must play a larger, more vocal role. Flood phone banks, mailboxes and Twitter accounts of the White House and congressional representatives, forcing them to fight harder to make black employment a front-burner issue. Press the president to continue to use the bully pulpit to gain rock-solid commitments from CEOs of major corporations to hire workers and contract suppliers embracing diversity best practices. At the local level, storm the offices of local officials to produce payrolls through public-private projects.

Let’s face it: We cannot solely rely on the government to fix this problem. There are other practical, deliberate steps all of us can take. In his December 2009 Publisher’s Page column written at the height of the Great Recession, BLACK ENTERPRISE Publisher Earl G. Graves, Sr. urged African Americans to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. He told us to make every effort to help that friend, neighbor, laid-off co-worker or family member in need of a job with a referral or recommendation. Apply your resources, contacts and social media networks to identify opportunities for others. To extend that message even further, many of the roughly 2 million black-owned businesses - even though 95% are sole proprietorships – should make it their mission to hire at least one employee, contract products and services from at least another quality African American supplier and partner with other black-owned companies. Work with companies, community groups and organizations to develop training programs to prepare individuals for the demands of a tech-driven 21st Century workforce. Engaging in this type of direct action may not end this crisis tomorrow but it will create a powerful ripple effect in bringing economic vitality to our communities.

As in 2009, job creation must our No. 1 priority. Consider it our economic stimulus plan.

Follow Derek T. Dingle on Twitter at @DTDingle.

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