Whether the issue is related to unemployment, education or healthcare, Melody Barnes represents one of President Obama’s most tenacious fighters for his domestic agenda. One of his chief policy advisers and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, her portfolio has expanded in scope and urgency with the president’s current focus on job creation and the unveiling of his mammoth $3.8 trillion budget. At the recent Black Enterprise economic forum, 20/20 Vision: A Look Ahead at Black America in the Next Economic Boom, held in conjunction with Walmart, Editor-in-Chief Derek T. Dingle conducted a one-on-one interview with Barnes on the administration’s plans for year two and beyond.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Was the State of the Union address a reset of the Obama presidency?
Barnes: I think it was an opportunity for the president to talk to the American people about the experience of this past year, remind people of what we were facing when we walked in the door a year ago, what we’ve done to confront those challenges and then what we’re going to do going forward. If we talk about what comes next, [it’s] create jobs, jobs, jobs and in doing that, support for small businesses being very important. Also, we must look at infrastructure, not just roads and bridges but broadband [and] high- speed rail. We’re thinking about the new, 21st Century versions of infrastructure and opportunities for job creation that exist there. The fiscal 2011 budget will be a further framework for people to see how we plan to move forward, the way that we want to work with Congress but also the things that we can do through the executive branch to push these ideas and rebuild this new foundation.
BE: Will the administration develop any targeted programs to address black unemployment?
Barnes: Absolutely. We’re talking about a 16%, 17% unemployment rate in the African-American community and certainly know there are places where it’s 25%, 30%. In fact, I had meetings with people [who talked] about communities confronting 63% unemployment. I get chills when I think about what that does to families, communities and businesses. In that same conversation, people often start out by saying the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] isn’t really helping us. But as we continue the conversation, at some point, almost everyone would say, ‘well there’s this program that Recovery Act funds are funding.’ The Recovery Act is in fact working. We’re talking about 2 million jobs that were created or saved – 300,000 in education. Another 200,000 of those jobs were in areas of infrastructure, construction and elsewhere, certainly those industries have an impact in the African American community.
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