As President George W. Bush’s approval ratings continue to plummet, it seems like a major swath of Americans are finally paying attention to the concerns that most black Americans spotted four years ago, ranging from a failing public education system to a volatile economy. A 1,500-person poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and The Press, a Washington, D.C.-based independent opinion research group, showed Bush’s approval ratings descending to an all-time low of 38%.
According to the poll, 80% of African Americans disapprove of Bush and 92% want the next president to offer different policies and programs. It wasn’t just a black thing: 69% of all Americans share that sentiment, while 57% said the administration’s policies have negatively impacted the nation’s economy and the gap between rich and poor.
“I think it’s been a difficult four years for many African Americans in this country. You’ve seen a rise for the first time in a very long time in the number of adults and children living in poverty, and a disproportionate number of both those groups are African American,” says Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.). “The administration has pronounced itself an example of this new kind of compassionate conservatism, but the reality has simply never lived up to the rhetoric of the 2000 campaign.”
Claude A. Allen, Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser, says the president has initiated a number of policies that have positively affected African Americans. “On the most recent national report card looking at education, scores for African Americans closed the gap more than any other group. That’s telling [us] that our kids are doing better in school, which is critical,” points out Allen. He adds that many minority-owned and women-owned businesses have reaped benefits from the 7(a) small business loan program.
Economic indicators show that many Americans grew poorer during Bush’s first four years in office. In 2004, the overall poverty rate increased for the fourth year in a row. The poverty rate for African Americans remained high at 24.7%, three times the poverty rate for whites, according to Census Bureau reports.`
“It’s a manifestation of the fact that the economy’s being pulled apart and the middle class is being battered in the process,” says Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political scientist. “To the extent that we’re new entrants in the middle class, we’re suffering.”
According to Walters, higher education and high-paying, jobs fuel the engine that has driven the middle class. “In the last five years, we’ve lost 2.7 million industrial jobs, 15% to 20% of which were held by blacks. What [is needed] to make up for that loss is a very steep increase in the number of people who are going to college and getting other high-paying jobs,” he says. “It’s not happening fast enough. So while you have some increase in the black middle class as a result of education, the comparative relationship between the black and the white middle class is eroding.”
During its tenure, the administration has aggressively fought affirmative action policies in higher education.